One evening, I was at home and I heard someone screaming for help. At first I thought it was just kids playing. A few moments later Kyomuhendo appeared at my compound, breathless, her two brothers were hot on her heels with machetes. I welcomed and told her to stay with my family. She stayed with us for four days, because her brothers were baying for her blood,” relates Milton Mpuurwa, a resident of Kitonozi village in Bwijanga, Masindi district.
It is a story of persecution as told by almost the entire village. Mpuurwa is Flavia Kyomuhendo’s neighbor, and one she is lucky she has, for she owes a good part of her life to him.
Kyomuhendo, 42 and a mother of five is living with HIV. When her marriage failed, she returned home to her parents, and her father allocated her about 3 acres of land, where she could build a house and raise her children. But her bothers wouldn’t let her have it.
“My brother used to threaten me that he is going to kill me. He would say he would get rid of me since HIV had failed to kill me. He wanted to kill me so that he takes my piece of land. I had planted pineapples on part of the land, he came and uprooted some of them, and then shifted the demarcation markers,” she narrates.
Prosy Nalumansi, her friend and neighbor, was witness to many of the battles that Kyomuhendo’s brothers waged. She relates, “Her brothers used to say she is a woman and she should have stayed married. They would threaten her that if she didn’t find a man and get married, they would kill her and her children.”
Kyomuhendo tried every avenue she knew to seek redress and protection from her brothers, from the LC1 officials to the Sub-county law enforcers, in vain.
From her visits to The AIDS Support Organisation centre in Masindi town for her counseling and treatment, Kyomuhendo got the chance to sit in a session where UGANET officials were talking to her clinic about the services they offered to protect the rights of people living with HIV.
“When we would go for our clinic days at the TASO centre, sometimes we would have visitors who would talk about how we should take our ARVs in the right way and live a positive life. One day we received visitors from UGANET who talked about human rights. That is when I started to hope that I could get some help,” she says.
Maureen Kiiza, the UGANET Legal Officer in Masindi, says that Kyomuhendo’s was one of the 54 cases received by her office in 2010. As in several others, the UGANET office provided free mediation services where the aggressors, local officials, the complainant and the rest of the family were summoned to resolve the matter.
The meeting decided that the invaders pay 30, 000 Ushs for the crops they had destroyed, and also that one of her brothers pays 50, 000 Ushs for the piece of land that he claimed.
Kiiza says that the work that has been done here has laid the foundation for securing the rights of people living with HIV.
“The communities we worked with now understand the importance of the human rights component in managing HIV. At first people didn’t understand what lawyers were doing in HIV interventions, but now people are able to point out their rights in case they are violated, because we have educated them. There is still need for sensitization to reach everybody and change their attitudes, to stop discriminating against people living with HIV,” she says.
And Kyomuhendo’s story is testimony to the impact that the free legal aid has had on these communities.
“Am very thankful to UGANET for helping me regain my land. I was being persecuted and had no piece of mind. I had even contemplated committing suicide. But when the UGANET officials came here we held a meeting and everything was resolved. Now I don’t have to live in fear,” she says, as her face breaks into a hearty smile.
Re-energized from the sense of safety that she now feels, she prepares cassava cutting for the next planting, in a garden that is about 3kms away from her home. The last season she planted her cassava on a generous neighbour’s piece of land, but this season she is readying herself to plant on her recovered land.