NAMALEMBA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS) — I used to have a cousin named Joan who lived in northern Uganda. Joan was an orphan who stayed with her grandparents.
Joan was interested in going to school but she had no one to pay for her education. So, at the age of 16, Joan began working in other people’s gardens where they had planted maize. Joan would spend a lot of time removing the weeds from the crop so that the maize could grow. When she finished work, the people would give Joan food.
Joan often told me she was depressed because she worked very hard for little food. She considered taking poison but as a protestant she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It was during this time that a 54-year-old man from the village approached Joan and asked her to marry him. Joan had met the man previously and he had seen her working in the gardens. Joan did not know that the man was infected with HIV until she tested positive for it later that year. Two years after Joan began a relationship with the man, she had his baby. The little baby girl, Judy, had HIV but that didn’t stop the man from leaving his family. Joan had no money to take care of her daughter, who became seriously sick when she was 9 months old. The doctors told Joan it was too late for the baby to begin HIV treatment. Two days later the baby died.
After Judy’s death, Joan became even more depressed. She felt stranded. She wanted to open her own business selling tomatoes but she didn’t have anyone to help her with the capital to start. Eight months after her baby died, Joan was found dead in her home. The doctors said that she died of AIDS. Joan was just 19 years old.