“We go to the hospital to have our blood tested, but we do not know why—only that the drugs we do get must be adhered for a healthy life or we can die.”

Scovia whispers these words with an almost religious awe as she takes her daily dosage of the ARV-life saving drugs. The limited knowledge she has of the AIDS virus is that it is a killer disease and if she doesn’t take the drugs, she will die.

AIDS continues to be a disease feared but not understood, as education is sparse. Medical counsellors administering the drugs emphasize the peril of the disease as a death sentence to ensure the drugs are taken, rather than widening the general knowledge of infected individuals.

“Two years ago I was diagnosed as HIV-positive. AIDS is not something I know very much about,” Pricilla Kabusinge says. “Most of the time it is discussed in whispers around my village. Since I was diagnosed, my aunt has warned me never to have sex, as men will not treat me well…the stigma and the sense of shame… is very depressing. Counseling has been exceptionally helpful in managing my sense of isolation, and especially the loneliness.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of teens contracting the AIDS virus is growing exponentially. Rural regions are particularly rife with the disease, as many women are unable to access the mother-to-child prevention drugs (as they give birth in their homes). This favoring of home births has resulted in a teenage AIDS epidemic.

The most significant challenge these innocents face is loneliness, stigma, and isolation; they find it impossible to make friends.

“As soon as any friends find out I have the HIV/AIDS virus, they run away. They think if they are close to me, they too will get the virus,” Jaridah Bwego says.

These intimate portraits focus on how the afflicted teens cope with their experience of being HIV positive. Amidst these chilling narratives, extraordinary stories of hope and glimpses of heroism emerge in these individuals’ quests to pursue their dreams, against the odds.

—Carol Allen-Storey