Constance Mukamunana, role model in Rwinkwavu
The light blue door and a brimming smile are what draws you to Mukamunana’s living room. Mukamunana is a 45 year old woman, mother of 3 children: Keza 6, Pacifique 15 and Angelique 17 years old.
Mukamunana was in Tanzania when she found about her HIV infection in 2006. She was so ill that friends at her church offered to help. She asked to be taken back to Rwanda to die in her motherland. Due to limited support that was available in Tanzania, Mukamunana could not stand on her feet, she had to be bed lifted hence, one of the priest offered to accompany her.
When she arrived in Rwanda, she did not have shelter nor food. She was in Gatsibo District. She rented a broken metallic tank for as little as $4 per month. Since she could not afford to pay for hospital accommodation bills, she was advised to stay and receive treatment from home. Life was so hard for that sometimes she preferred staying at the roadside as her home until one day, a monk found her and talked to her and he was so touched by her miserable story, so he decided to take her to “that place known for treating HIV patients” - Rwinkwavu Hospital “muri Partnaz” as she said - meaning “at Partners In Health”
At Rwinkwavu Hospital, she was put under ARVs and at the time, she started living with Julienne, a PIH accompagnateur. PIH was giving her food packages but surprisingly she was losing weight instead of gaining some. After discussions with PIH doctors, they realized that she was too worried about her kids who were not with her. PIH helped her bring them to Rwinkwavu and from that time she was happy and felt much better. Once she had gained some strength, she was enrolled in a cooperative to cultivate maize. She worked hard and saved money which enabled her to buy a piece land. “I didn’t have enough money to build a decent house for my kids but at least I had a land and my objective was to work harder to get more money and one day be able to have my house” she said.
Mukamunana was frequently visited by Alice, our social work manager. She would visit her to check on her health status but also make sure they had enough food. When it was not the case, she would bring them food packages. She would also bring her visitors: potential donors as well as colleagues/partners for them to better understand our work.
In 2011, Alice called Mukamunana to plan for a visit of some “American friends”. On the day of the visit, Mukamunana was not there on time. “Sincerely, I liked Alice and I was grateful for PIH help but I didn’t want to miss work just to host these visitors. I had already received several people and that day I didn’t think it was really worth it” she confessed. After Alice called her, she finally came from work and met these visitors. At the end of the visit one of them told her that he will help with building her a house. She couldn’t believe it and decided that these were just words…nothing more so she didn’t allow herself to think about it… until the day she saw geometers coming. She was so shocked and felt so grateful. In 2012 her house was completed and she moved in with her three kids.
There is nothing that ever prepared her for this act of kindness. In addition to the house, she was given a goat, pig and an extra piece of land where she currently has banana plantation for both food and also brewing local beer to generate income. She feels lucky to have known Ted who offered her the house and it is always a pleasure to receive him in her house any time he comes to Rwanda.
Mukamunana works hard daily to sustain her family and herself. When asked how she feels now, she authentically responds facing up and hands below her chin, “You cannot feel it unless you are me.” Finally, when we ask her what are her challenges/what she needs as of today she proudly responds “I have a house, I have a job and earn money, and my kids are going to school… what else I can ask for? I am good thank you”.
Keza, Mukamunana 6 year old daughter is HIV negative because when Mukamunana was pregnant with Keza, she was enrolled in our PMTCT (prevention of the Mother to Child HIV Transmission) program giving her dear girl a chance to survive the transmission of HIV/AIDS.