Génesis Blanco – Learning to love myself

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I came to AID FOR AIDS (AFA) when I was eight years old, thanks to a brochure handed to my mother at a time when we most needed it. Although it had been two years since my HIV diagnosis, the pain in my family was still intact.
At AFA I met Trina María Aguais and I started to attend the “Children’s Program,” where they helped me stabilize my health situation through receiving important tools to use in my daily life and in the process of adhering to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. In addition, I attended various recreational activities organized for children in order to socialize with others and entertain myself.
At the age of 11 I was trained as a Multiplier Agent for the prevention of HIV in the program, “How much do you know?” where I met the program director and AFA Director of Venezuela, Lupe Aguais. Through my participation in the “How much do you know?” Program I learned more about HIV and other STIs. In this way I learned to develop strategies to recognize my emotions and feelings, learned to communicate effectively, to handle conflicts with critical thinking, and to make decisions that have allowed me to live healthy.
A year later, and after 7 years of antiretroviral treatment, my doctors gave me a 1-year “rest” from my treatment, but when I restarted therapy again I began to feel a lot of heavy side effects from the medicines.

I went desperately to AFA because I could not adapt and adhere to the medicines available in Venezuela, so I was included in the “Access to Treatment Program,” and I began to receive my ARV Treatment from the United States every month at no cost. Despite suffering some side effects at first, everything returned to normal soon.
I started high school at age of 14, later than usual. One day, when I was arriving at school a friend asked me: – “Genesis, is it true that you have HIV?” – In that moment it felt like the whole world had fallen down on me, and I denied it to everyone except my two friends who understood gave me a big hug. That day when I got home, I hugged my mom and cried until I was exhausted.

I stopped going to school until I regained my strength again and spoke to Lupe Aguais, who helped me out a lot emotionally. So later I decided to go back to school and I brought my teacher information about HIV. Of course there were many fellow students who rejected me and made comments that sank me deeper into depression. That situation, coupled with the problems I was going through at home with my family, triggered my entrance into an uncontrolled chaos.

I started a period of rebellion in which I no longer wanted to take my medicines. I would lie and hide the pills under my bed, screaming and fighting with my mom. It was a very difficult time for me and for my family. I began to feel that it was not worth living and that all I wanted was to die and end it all.
Time passed and I turned 18 and continued taking the drugs irregularly until one day I had a strong health relapse, my viral load went up, my CD4 dropped, and I began to get sick from everything. At that moment I realized what was happening in my life; I was letting myself fall into a pit that I could not get out of. However, one day I became aware and got up and said “NO MORE! Time for a change of attitude!” I began to seek help and talked to the AFA team, and they lent me a hand once again. They put me into contact with physicians to improve my health, and I also started a new antiretroviral therapy supplied by a pharmacy in a hospital in Venezuela.

Currently I am 20 years old, and I’m living in Maturin, Venezuela. Thank God I get my ARV’S every month, although sometimes there are failures in the provision of treatment—a fact that fills me with a sense of rage and powerlessness because constantly stopping and restarting the therapy puts my health at risk. And sometimes reagents are not available for laboratory tests (CD4 and viral load), so we spend months without these important tests that doctors recommend should be performed every 3 months, but in Venezuela they can only do these every 6 months if the reagents are available. Furthermore, I must constantly put up with rudeness on the part of physicians and health workers who because of their ignorance do not want to assist me for fear of infection.
But now I think, feel, and act differently. I’ve learned that I’m an important person in this world and that if God put me in this health situation it is because he has a purpose for me here on this earth and because surely I can overcome it.

There were major changes since I started taking my therapy regularly. I gained weight; my face is healthy and full of joy. I finished high school and I’m making plans to enroll in college. I fell in love, and I have a serodiscordant partner (where one partner has the virus and the other does not) who knows and understands my health situation. It was not easy for me to tell him, but today I am engaged to him and we are very happy making plans for the future. My family and friends support me, and although I no longer go to AID FOR AIDS as often, I am always in touch with the team because they are constantly aware of my situation.

With AFA I learned to take care of my health. They gave me information and medicines when I needed them. But more importantly, they gave me LIFE, because I learned that with determination and effort I can achieve the goals I have set, and there will always be people who need me and I can help them. So thank you very much AID FOR AIDS, for being with me forever, and for teaching me the true value of my life.