Q: I graduated from college with a degree in entrepreneurship from a Nigerian institution. Thanks to my course of study, I have...
When Lorna Hamilton-Henry speaks, people are drawn to listen. Her smile is warm and engaging and her friendly personality can win over just about anyone. But there’s something different about this mother of three, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she is HIV positive. It has to do with the fact that she’s overcome, in spite of. Living with the disease for the past ten years, she confesses, has been no easy feat. Through her recently established foundation, Mothers2Mothers T&T, Hamilton-Henry has dedicated her life to empowering and lending support to other HIV infected women. And while she awaits assistance from various government ministries and non-governmental organisations to take the foundation forward, the Barataria resident is doing whatever little she can on her own. Making a difference, she believes, starts with a single step.
Living proof that HIV does not have to be a death sentence, Hamilton-Henry, who said she decided to start the foundation while attending The XVIII International Aids Conference in Austria last year, stated that the time had come for more people to speak out about HIV to help curb the spread of the dreaded disease. “I was talking to a doctor from Africa who started the same foundation in his country to provide education and support for pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV. I told him I wanted to establish something just like that in T&T,” she recalled. “He said he didn’t think that I could have done it on my own as it took a lot of work. But I knew I could.” Hamilton-Henry got the job done. Today, the three-member organisation is already making a positive impact on those who they seek to help.
Adamant that the number of infected people in T&T is drastically higher than what the statistics reveal, Hamilton-Henry said parents and teachers needed to take a more proactive approach in helping to educate the nation’s children about sex and HIV. “The infection rate is alarming, especially between the age group 13-29. That is our human resource. Imagine in some homes, talking about sex is still taboo. Why?” she asked. “We need to be educated. Some infected people still don’t know they can have a baby born without HIV, or that they do not have to pass on the disease to their partners. My husband remains HIV free to this day.”
But there is one thing that Hamilton-Henry says has yet to be effectively addressed, and that’s the stigma associated with the virus. Still, she’s pressing on. The 34-year-old has also recently established Help Send a Child to School, which assists HIV positive mothers to purchase school supplies and uniforms for their children. “We have also partnered with Is There Not A Cause Foundation and so far we have helped a lot of people. I’m really happy about that.”
Pillar of strength
Hamilton-Henry, who contracted the disease from her first boyfriend when she was just a teenager, admitted that “it gets tough sometimes.” During those times, she relies on her strong faith in God and the support from her husband of 11 years. “I remember for the first five years, I was so afraid. I lived in a box. Back then, people used to say that only prostitutes and gay people got HIV. I wasn’t either of those. But my husband told me that I had to fight. That I shouldn’t give up. Now, I have so much fight in me because I have to be around to see my children grow up and branch off unto their own. Yes, I have that much fight.”
And while she is unemployed due to the many side effects the medication has had on her body, she refuses to feel sorry for herself. Instead, she vows to use her energy and talents to help make a positive difference in the lives of others. “Just recently I was lecturing to some young people at the Youth Fest and I told them, people are going to make fun of you. They’re going to put you down. That’s the real world. But you have to know who you are and be strong,” she asserted. “Look at me, I’ve been through it all but I’m still standing!”
More Info: Contact Hamilton-Henry at 725-9981/[email protected] or check out her Facebook page.