Clergy bless “ambassadors of change” Jemimah Ate and Opio Charles at their wedding. Photo: WCC

Clergy bless “ambassadors of change” Jemimah Ate and Opio Charles at their wedding. Photo: WCC

From Canon Gideon Byamugisha, to newlywed couple Jemimah Ate and Opio Charles, people in Uganda are advocating to end stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.

And, as more than 50 young people graduated from the Hope Institute of Vocational Studies, a new generation of advocates is set to move those efforts forward even more.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme has helped connect and educate people at a local level, and now their lives are shining examples of hope.

Byamugisha, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, said: “I am real evidence and a witness that an HIV-positive person can live longer and productively as long as they adhere to treatment. It is therefore my prayer that all religious and cultural leaders embrace science and help their people to end the spread of HIV.”

He founded the Friends of Canon Gideon Foundation, which in turn funds the Hope Institute to empower young people to work for community transformation.

“Fellow young people in the struggle to overcome the spread of HIV should stop giving excuses of not having mentors to look up to when we have elders like Canon Gideon showing us the right path to take,” said one of the student leaders at Hope Institute.

Byamugisha, of the Anglican Church of Uganda, was the first African church leader to publically disclose his HIV positive status after he lost his first wife in 1991. He has since been at the frontline in promoting HIV testing, treatment adherence, uptake of all preventive measures and challenging HIV stigma and discrimination.

Life milestones, lifelong advocacy

Communities in Uganda are threading advocacy messages into birthday celebrations, weddings and other life milestones. Often, they speak out against HIV stigma, discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence through music, dance and drama.

When Jemimah Ate recently married Opio Charles during a colorful wedding ceremony, more than 500 guests at the Makerere Deliverance Church in Uganda showed their support for the couple they consider “ambassadors of change.”

Ate, who was born with HIV, met Charles, an HIV-negative young man, as they both were pursuing their careers. The two became friends and finally fell in love with each other. After learning of her status, Charles remained committed, supportive and determined to give a deaf ear to whoever advised him to give up on the love of his life. He was informed that, with the available HIV treatment, science and technology, it would be possible for him to live happily with his wife without contracting the virus, and that they could even bear children who are HIV-negative.

Their wedding ceremony and others are some of the Makerere Deliverance Church’s realized fruits of promoting HIV treatment adherence and accompanying people living with HIV.

“In you I found the woman I always dreamt to spend my entire life with,” said Charles to Ate. “We have overcome a number of challenges together and now that you are my lawful wife, I am more than confident that there is no barrier in life that will ever defeat us.”

WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy

WCC member churches in Uganda