“I realize that the interfaith community really does have the power to make a difference,” said Maturu, who had the full attention of the civic and faith leaders gathered at the breakfast, which was held in conjunction with the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
“Let me tell you a story on the importance of empowerment,” Maturu began. When she was 10, she lost her mother and her younger brother in the same week due to AIDS. “This was really a devastating experience for me, having to lose my loved ones,” she said. “When I reached 12 years of age, that’s when I started severely getting sick, and I didn’t know what was happening.”
One of her aunts realized something must be wrong and got Maturu tested for HIV—but still didn’t tell her niece right away. “She decided to tell me when she realized I wasn’t taking my medication,” said Maturu. “For me, I really didn’t understand the need to continue to take mediation when I was improving on my health.”
When she found out she had HIV, Maturu thought she would die, just like her mother and her brother. “I tried committing suicide,” she said. “There was a lot of stigma that was also happening at that time.”
But she found a way to receive psycho-social support. “I told myself, I want to share my story with the community so that people get to understand the real issues of how to grow up as a child with HIV,” she said. “Coming out in the open, it’s not something that’s easy.”
Now 30, Maturu’s life work centers around helping other families and communities learn the best ways to support children who have HIV. She has served as a peer counselor and press officer, as well as in other roles.
“I’m proud to say, I’ve been able to participate in raising the voices of children, of adolescents, of girls, and young people in those spaces,” she said. “Really, when we’re engaging the interfaith communities, we really wanted to create a demand for HIV self-testing.”
Churches are experts at sharing messages of hope, and in forming a new narrative for how children can not only live—but thrive—even if they have HIV. “
From working with faith leaders, Maturu said she realized that many of them were not aware of HIV self-testing. “Trust me—people think the communities know—but deep down in the communities people really don’t have that information,” she said. “Stigma is still rampant.”
She believes the key is to first provide the right medications, and ensure that children take them—then to expand the support for children within the community. “We need more than medicines if children are to take their treatment, survive, and strive,” she said. “They need mental health and psycho-social support, too.”