Nigerian Pastor Esther Amunega knows firsthand the devastating effects of HIV.
In 2001, AIDS’ complications stole the life of her husband and, a few months later, her middle son. She feared that the virus would also take her own life and her youngest son, Testimony.
Today, however, she and her son lead healthy lives with the help of the Faith Alive hospital in Jos, Nigeria. They receive antiretroviral medications provided by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Testimony is in secondary school and his mother works at the hospital as a counselor who encourages others facing the virus.
She will share her Nigerian Pastor Esther Amunegastory Saturday at Barnes and Noble in Fort Collins, one day before the 25th annual International World AIDS Day. Rather than cite statistics from the World Health Organization that more than 3.4 million Nigerians live with the virus and 210,000 Nigerians die from AIDS’ complications each year, she will talk about how she chooses hope in her life and work.
“Sometimes, I counsel people who feel they should just go and die,” she says. “So I bring in my own story.” They doubt her HIV status when they see her strong stature and hear her deep laugh. She goes on to tell them, “I know what you’re passing through. You can still make it.”
It’s harder for her to reveal her status to Nigerian religious leaders, both pastors and immams, because many of them carry fears and prejudices against people with HIV. Amunega feels that it’s her responsibility to help them love everyone. She brings vibrant, young couples with HIV to HIV-awareness workshops for these leaders. Without revealing the couples’ status, she asks the leaders if they would perform a wedding for a couple with HIV. She says that the leaders usually agree that they would not. They say that the couple will soon die. They also say that they don’t want HIV positive couples to infect other people in their places of worship.
“After the leaders have said their judgments,” Amunega says, “I introduce them to the HIV+ couples sitting in the workshop and have the couples talk about how they felt listening just then. The leaders are so embarrassed. Some even cry with shame.”
But Amunega feels no shame. In 2011, she married her second husband. He, too, is HIV positive. When someone threatened to reveal their HIV status, she said, “Go ahead. I don’t care. We don’t have anything to worry about.”
Erika Wiebe Nossokoff of Fort Collins submitted this article. She is the author of the book, “Faith Alive: Stories of Hope and Healing from an African Doctor.”