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“We are still here”

Elizabeth and José in their cornfield. Photo: Gillian Hoyer

January 11, 2016

By Gillian Hoyer

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“When I first met CoCoSI I thought I was going to die very soon,” says Maria (all names have been changed in this story for the protection of the people involved), a petite soft-spoken woman sitting in the front room of her small home in Cabañas district, El Salvador. Then she adds, with a twinkle in her eyes, “That was a long time ago and, as you can see, we are still here!”

Maria was diagnosed with HIV in 1996 when her first husband died of the disease. Because she did not know her HIV status before her husband died, her daughter, Elizabeth was born with HIV. She struggled as a single mother with a significant health diagnosis for herself and her daughter. It was extremely difficult for her and she was not sure if she would live.

Staff from PWRDF partner CoCoSI (the Committee Against AIDS) first met Maria and Elizabeth when Elizabeth was only 12 years old. They connected with her through the HIV Clinic at the hospital in Sensuntepeque, Cabañas and began home visits, then connected them with a support group run by CoCoSI at the hospital.

It was through this support group that Maria met José. Maria and José and their families have made a new life together. They live in a small adobe home with a small store that sells chips and pop. This is how they make an income for their family. José farms. He has a bit of land where he farms corn, and another patch for beans. It is enough food to somewhat sustain the family, when José is healthy.

But they have to be careful. Secrecy and isolation describe how many HIV/AIDS sufferers live in El Salvador, even today. CoCoSI is working to change this. Whenever CoCoSI comes to visit the home, you can be sure that the neighbours are listening to see what they can find out about the family. If it were discovered that Maria, José, and Elizabeth are HIV positive, they would be shunned and lose all their business. Even José’s daughter and son-in-law, who are not HIV positive, do not know the HIV status of their family members.

Connection with CoCoSI, however, has meant the difference between life and death for this family.

Not only does CoCoSI run support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Cabañas district, but they support people in so many other ways. The team runs workshops on different aspects of living with the disease and provide transportation and food costs for people travelling so that they can get to the groups. They will even help with money to get to the hospital for appointments or to get medications from the clinic at the hospital.

Maria summed up the support of CoCoSI by saying, “When I was diagnosed in 1996, it was extremely difficult for me. Now it is like nothing to take care of myself. We need CoCoSI to keep helping us and we will be okay.”

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