African AIDS activists will share their stories with Edmonton

Edmontonians will have a unique opportunity to hear directly from African women about the fight against HIV and the AIDS epidemic. They will be featured at Monday's Ask Her Talks speaker series at the Royal Alberta Museum at 7 p.m.

'As women, we have given HIV a human face'

Dorothy Onyango founded Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya after being diagnosed as HIV positive. (Elizabeth Walsh/MSH)

Edmontonians will have a unique opportunity to hear directly from African women about the fight against HIV and the AIDS epidemic.  

Dorothy Onyango, founder of Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya, is one of five experts and activists to be featured in Monday's Ask Her Talks speaker series sponsored by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The event takes place at the Royal Alberta Museum at 7 p.m.

Onyango launched WOFAK after being diagnosed as HIV positive in 1990, and after seeing how few services and resources were available to women living with the virus.

"I was living every day like I thought I would die. Sometimes I would wake up and pinch myself and ask, 'Am I still alive?' "

WOFAK now operates community based programs across Kenya, providing basic needs for women living with HIV — but it started out stealthily as a small and secret meeting place for 10 women.

"It was very, very hard. There was (a) very high stigma . . . . It was like being HIV positive was equal to death," said Onyango during a Monday morning interview with Edmonton AM radio show host Mark Connolly.

"It was not easy to open up and talk about your HIV status. So that's why we came together."

Although progress has been slow, Onyango says life for HIV survivors in Kenya has improved. The virus is no longer the death sentence it once was, and the stigma around HIV is starting to subside.

"As time went on, we became stronger and stronger . . . there is still stigma, but at least it has changed. As women, we have given HIV a human face."

Women visiting from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe will speak about everything from female activism to philanthropy during the talk. 

Tickets and more information are available at askhertalks.com.

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