By Geraldine Kauma and Annika McGinnis
Many know of Reach Out Mbuya as a medical HIV clinic, but did you know that ROM is also a breeding place for long-lasting relationships?
As of Saturday, 13th August, love began brewing at ROM, when Reach Out Mbuya clients held their first “Singles Club Meeting” – a group for the unmarried that would enable them to interact with people of the same status, possibly allowing some of them to find love but also to support each other in their different day to day struggles of living with HIV.
The club sought to address issues of “discordant couples,” where many of Reach Out Mbuya’s HIV-positive clients fail to take their medication because they haven’t told their HIV-negative partner that they have HIV. Other clients fear they won’t find love among people of their HIV status, either positive or negative.
So on Saturday, with the mid-morning sun shining brightly in the sky, giving a warmth to the morning, people strolled in to the gates of Banda with an air of relaxation that is not usual with hospital visits. This was because they were arriving to the venue of ROM’s first ever Singles’ Club meeting at their site in Banda. In the background, the children of the Exploring Talents Club Brass Band were practicing for the Parish Day presentation to be held the next day in Mbuya.
The meeting, which started at about 10 a.m., brought together members of the ROM family from different sites, with a total attendance of 21 people, 5male and 16 females.
The team seemed excited at the prospect of being around people of the same status in a setting that was not the usual medical one, but a more relaxed and social setting that encouraged members to actually freely talk about their lives and personal issues.
One of the members, a staff member at ROM, shared his experience of discovering that he was HIV-positive, and yet he had a wife and children. Luckily, the family was not infected. Still, he had asked his wife if the couple could separate to help them maintain their health, because at that time, so many people were dying of AIDS that he didn’t want to risk leaving his children as total orphans by infecting their mother as well.
The staff member went ahead to tell the attendees that separating from one’s partner was no longer necessary, as there were plenty of discordant couples that were living happily together.The key issue, he said, was simply disclosure to the partner for early intervention and cooperation. He gave an example of a discordant couple, a negative husband and a positive wife, who have managed to have negative children with support from the medical team, as well as counseling, which has advised them on best practices.
“Even if I don’t get a marriage partner, at least I will have a support group to which I can turn to in case of anything, even personal matters,” one of the women attendees said.
The team selected a chairperson, secretary, mobilizer and treasurer to spearhead the activities of the club, only seeking support from the ROM staff in a few areas.
“This committee can even be used to mobilize members to support during preparations for functions like kwanjula- traditional/customary marriage, in case one of the members is serious about taking a relationship to the next level,” a gentleman pointed out excitedly.
They also discussed using the group to take their personal savings to another level, and they agreed to bring 500 shillings each to the next meeting, a figure which is likely to change as more members join the group.
They went ahead to discuss the regularity of their meetings and concluded on a fortnight basis, but it was evident that most members would have loved it to be a weekly fete, if not for financial constraints.
Cheers to this new circle of friends!!!