As an African artist living with HIV in the Netherlands for more than 15 years now, I continue to experience a lot of stigma and discrimination based on me being open about my HIV and my beautiful colour. I realized that for many people with a migrant background stigma is indeed still a major issue. So, in April this year I launched Stories of Hope which aims to inspire people to share their talent as a positive way to deal with and raise awareness about stigma.
On 18 July, Mandela Day, together with the other ‘Heroes of Hope’ we shared our stories with the world!
Sharing our stories on Mandela’s birthday was a perfect moment as he continues to be a big inspiration to me and the world. I have learned a lot from his life experience as a freedom fighter, reconciler, unifier and inspirer. In the spirit of Mandela’s legacy, I truly believe that Stories of Hope will give people inspiration to fight stigma and bring positive change in our communities.
Stories of Hope can be visited at www.storiesofhope.nl. My dream is that our collection will continue to grow in the Netherlands and also beyond. Please vist the website and feel free to connect me to people that would like to share their inspiring stories with us. We believe in your talent and let’s fight stigma together!
My lovely people, can you explain to me why white people coming to Africa are quickly called “experts”, but people of African descent in Europe are often called “refugees, migrants, or illegals”?
After I married my husband, in the different countries in Africa we lived in I became the “expert’s wife”, Mrs. Becks. Although I always felt this title to be wrong, at the same time at all these places I was also recognised for my talents as an artist and appreciated as a human being, part of society.
The ugly divide that the color of a skin can cause became evident to me in South Africa… I was 29 by then and I just bought my first house in Pretoria. Still, whenever a white South African appeared at our gate, for example for a delivery, I was always seen as the cleaning lady working for the landlord. Why? Because black women were supposed to be doing cleaning jobs in the suburb where we lived. They simply could not believe that I owned that house. So many times they refused to hand over my package, arguing they were only allowed to hand it over to the home owner! You should have seen their shock once Mrs. Becks showed her ID to them.
So, when we moved to the Netherlands, my husband kept his expert title, and me? From the cleaning lady I became the migrant, refugee or illegal. I was shocked to be labelled so strongly by so many in my adopted home. Mind you, I am proud to be called an African migrant, and I am really not bothered when people think I am a refugee as it is not a crime being a refugee.
But I am amazed by the prejudice that is part of these simple words. Despite me being Dutch and contribute to our economy through my business for more than 10 years now, you will be surprised at how quickly people are able to make up their mind about you, only based on the color of your skin!
But I am not harsh to them, a mistake can be made, right? But what bothers me is that still many people, instead of facing the truth, start a rant about that they are allowed to say what they think as they have ‘freedom of speech’. And to make matters worse, start pointing out the fact that I am not originally from this country and that I should know my place. Really?
An extreme story to illustrate this is one time when a dog was barking furiously at me. And the owner of that dog was getting very angry at me and told me in my face that I made her dog behave aggressively because I was black! I was speechless, but luckily my husband was with me and told the woman: “Does the dog see people in color? Only people see each other in different colors, for a dog every person is alike”.
Back to the expert/migrant issue; In fact we are both migrants as 1) my husband is not originally from Amersfoort and 2) his great grandfather settled in the Netherlands from Germany. So if you dig deep enough, you may discover that your roots are also somewhere else. And on being an expert, my talent is to be living for more than 18 years with HIV now, and I am also the first female in the World to play my Indonongo. So even if people try to label me, I know who I am and I am very proud of myself!
People may judge me based on the color of my skin or my African surname, but my actions always speak for themselves! So let’s all agree to love each other for the way we are and focus on using our talents to make this beautiful country an even better place. I thank all Dutch people who are giving their everything to make this happen, especially my lovely husband whom I love dearly.
Hello my lovely people. It is always great to have something to keep you positively busy during these strange Covid times. So I am very excited to share a new initiative called stories of hope with you. I will be leading this for the coming 4 months.
Just a little background: I was lucky to follow the STEP- UP training organised by the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG). Together with many other HIV activists and advocates I gained a lot of extra knowledge on HIV. EATG also gave us the opportunity to pitch a project we are passionate about and I decided to share my dream of reaching out to people living with HIV with a migrant background with them.
And guess what? My project was selected and I received a small grant to launch stories of hope! This is such a great opportunity because as HIV stigmafighter I dare to speak out against anyone who stigmatises or discriminates people in my city Amersfoort, the Netherlands and Worldwide.
I love Amersfoort and during my time here, I experienced stigma from healthcare providers, people on the street and employers. It happens everywhere, right now! So I want other talented people that never let stigma stand in their way to join me and inspire people still facing stigma today.
My journey will start in Liendert, an urban area with more than 7,500 people of which 52% has a migrant background. I want to reach out to them and provide a safe space for them to process and share stories related to stigma in our community. Through my partners Het Huis van Bartels, a green oasis in the heart of Liendert, I will work with people with a migrant background and tap into their unique talents to open up and share their story.
And I have evidence this works! What would I have done without my talent as an artist? It helped me to accept my hiv status and focus on positive messages of hope for the hiv community. Even before I was diagnosed with hiv I already shared my talents and I realised that hiv did not change who I am. Through the support of organisations such as hello gorgeous, hiv vereniging and many others, I regained my identity and came out stronger than ever before. Now it is time for me to take action and inspire change in my community.
And you can be a local hero too! If you like my poster, get in touch and join my growing pool of talents through your own poster!
Why do many of us still underestimate the value we bring, why do we struggle to embrace our unique feminine leadership strengths, and why do we remain silent and let our rights be violated?
You are born with superpowers, let your abilities and achievements speak for themselves. Stand up now, start owning our power. Challenge other women when they disempower themselves, call out bias, and question stereotypes.
Your voice matters, celebrate women’s achievements. So, strike the #ChooseToChallenge POSE during International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021 and help us to forge an inclusive world!
My dear lovely people living with HIV, I am not sure if we all know what U=U means. If not, I am always glad to explain it once again as it is really important to know U=U and how it can help to break the HIV stigma.
If you have an undetectable viral load, it means that you cannot transmit HIV sexually. I believe this information should be known widely as I have come to realize that there are still people out there that lack this information. So, to highlight the impact of U=U I will share two stories of young couples where U=U saved their relationship.
My first story happened in October last year, when I got in touch with a HIV+ American woman with undetectable viral load who follows my HIV stigmafighter facebook page. She fell in love with an African migrant from Senegal and I just finished to share a post about the U=U campaign in French. Immediately she contacted me via messenger and asked me if I could talk to her boyfriend about U=U.
I explained U=U to him through this picture in French. He told me that they already had intercourse and that some time after that she told him about her HIV status. At the time he panicked, thinking it would be the end of the world, especially since he recently was tested HIV negative before donating blood. I was quick to comfort him and inform that she could not pass it on to him because she is Undetectable. I recommended him to go back for another test to discover the truth.
A few days later he got in touch with me again and he was very happy and thanked me for guiding him in the whole process. He send me a small message saying “Hello Madam , I want to thank you for your help. I did HIV test and I am negative. I believe now in U=U”. He confirmed that he will keep on loving her and is planning to start a family with her. I now heard from them and learned that soon they are going to get married! What a happy ending!
My second story is about a young African migrant woman living in the Netherlands. I used to be her HIV peer counsellor and during one of our sessions she explained her worries about having children. She was madly in love but she did not want to disclose her status. First of all, I checked if she already knew something about U=U and she told me that she heard about it but did not understand it since she always communicated with health professionals through an interpreter who does not have knowledge on HIV terminologies. So, I explained clearly to her in French what U=U means since this is her preferred language to communicate. I told her that if she really wants to have a baby with her boyfriend, she will have to tell him to make him understand what it means to be undetectable.
I also stressed to her to use the fact of being undetectable for her own benefit, and that she should ask him to find out about his status as well before sexual intercourse. The reason for this is because if it then so happens that he is HIV+, they will not later on argue about his status. Being open about status and being undetectable will really help him understand that there will not be any danger for him.
After our chat, she went home convinced to be open about it. On the same evening when he approached her romantically she decided to tell him. He accepted her advice and they went to see a doctor together where he also learned more about how he can support her. He also got in touch with me to hear more about my and other experiences, which made him really excited to start a family with his girlfriend. Two months later she became pregnant and now they have a son that was born HIV negative.
Long live U=U, it saves relationship and helps to break the stigma!
Last Saturday 5 December I organised the “Stop HIV stigma Show” in my hometown, Gihanga, Burundi. I believe that by organising these type of events that one day my dream will come true: To defeat HIV stigma in our community! Here you find an impression of this beautiful day.
Pictures of this day are made courtesy of Ingabire Media and Chouman. Enjoy! Peace, Eliane
There was a lot of entertainment as well. Multi-talent Bryere in a traditional outfit playing the igondera, gifted Devie with a beautiful HIV stigmafighter button, the brilliant girls of Amazing Team, a group of awesome visuallly impaired singers from Lycee Kanura Band, a young performer from Fit Fashion Fire Team, and our two enthousiastic MCs Emi-Bravo and Chadou:
Then there was lots of important speakers during the event. The co-organiser Irene Kundubumwe, the representative of the network for people living with HIV in Bubanza Province Madame Kanyana Daphrose, national association of young people living with HIV Nshimirimana Salvator and Chantal Mbonankira
And to finish this beautiful photo impression, here you see my Batwa friends posing in front of the banner for the show. These were my real guests of honour and had a well deserved frontrow seat during this amazing day in Gihanga. Mwarakoze!
It is 1 December, WORLD AIDS DAY, and this year’s theme is “Global solidarity, resilient services”.
The world has known a rough year because of covid-19. And this has sometimes made us forget about the fight to end HIV and AIDS by 2030. I would like to take this moment to bring our fight back to the communities that need access to health services most, for example our Batwa, indigenous people in Burundi.
I cherish these moments of HIV education, using music and dance to connect and make important messages very easy to remember.
Let’s reach out to vulnerable populations and assist them to access HIV services when needed, and get back on track to end AIDS by 2030.
I am born dark brown although many people prefer to call my colour black. OK, then I am black! Do you have a problem with that?
It’s shocking how ignorant people remain about racism! In a week I experienced two cases, and I will share the most bizarre example here as it happened in my neighbourhood with someone I knew for over 10 years and with whom I did share joyful moments in the past. Until recently we always smiled at eachother, but a few days ago he finally removed the mask and showed his true self.
My friend dropped by and parked her car along the street in a way that we see many times and is totally legal. Despite this, he walked up to her and ordered her that she should not park there. Meanwhile across the street another car was parked which obstructed a footpath and access to a public wastebin. So my friend asked him if he also ordered that car owner to park somewhere else.
When she told me what happened, my husband and I were very curious to find out why he ordered her to remove her car. So we decided it was best to have a neighbourly chat about it. I went to his place and explained why I was at his door. Immediately he started shouting ”I told your friend not to park there. She said she would be gone for 5 minutes but she was gone for an hour”.
I asked him “Do you tell everybody who parks there, not to park there?” And he said that he doesn’t talk to others. So I became more curious and asked why he decided to confront my guest today. He responded “Are you accusing me that I stopped her because she is a black woman?” I told him not to put these words in my mouth, and that I didn’t mention her skin colour. I also told him that it would have made sense for him to talk to both cars owners which made him more angry, saying “You people make something big out of such a small thing, you are making an elephant out of a mouse. I am not listening to your nonsense. Does your husband know what you are doing to me?”
As I felt he now tried to shame me, I responded “Wait a minute, what am I exactly doing to you? I came to talk in good faith, but now you seem to turn this into something else. I am not hiding anything from my husband. You can go and ask him yourself if he is aware of what I am doing”. By now he was furious, telling me to “Go away with your nonsense!” before slamming his door.
I was left in shock as I respected him for 12 years. His decision to deny me the opportunity to explain how I experienced this situation, finally showed the real person hiding behind this smile. Looking back at what happened, to me it seems that he had been waiting a long time to share his true feelings about “us people”.
No doubt that one day he will understand that by denying “us people” to share our experience he is trying to silence or shame us into not mentioning the obvious racism that we experience so often. But if I see wrong happening, I will not be silent and continue to speak up.
My life has been quite a roller-coaster the past weeks, so in this blog I would like to express myself and share what I have learned.
The problem started 5 years ago when I developed pain in my chest and I was given anti blood clotting medication by my GP. Then, the cardiologist told me to stop it because, according to her, my heart was healthy and it was because of the stress of losing my brother. I stopped and a week later on my way to London for holidays I got a heart attack at Antwerp station on 3 August 2015. In the Hospital in Antwerp they did a lot exams and told me it was caused by a blood clot. So they put me back on medication and the pain in my chest was gone. I lived without fear of having a heart attack.
Last year during the summer of 2019 I started having heavy menstruation and it went on for 3 weeks non-stop. I even collapsed during a flight back from holidays and ended up at the emergency room at Schiphol. A place where by the way I was mistreated by the medical staff the moment I told them my HIV status. They accused me of putting in danger other people’s life in the plane because of my bleeding and I was supposed to stay away from travel until it was over.
But the bleeding simply did not stop, so I went to my own hospital where I was told I had a fibroid in my uterus. Keeping me on the same medication I continued bleeding heavily every month. But at some stage I lacked so much blood that I ended up in hospital for a blood transfusion at the beginning of 2020. Still, no changes to my medication.
Then, in March this year I visited my cardiologist and he told me that I didn’t need to visit anymore for regular check-ups, only to see the GP four times a year to check my blood pressure. He sent a letter to my GP with an updated medication list, including the anti blood clotting medication. By then I already told my gynaecologist my family history of my two sisters who had the same problem. She told me that if the bleeding did not stop, that my last option, after trying a new anti-conception called mirena, they would consider removing my uterus. My heavy bleeding never stopped since it started so it became a chronic problem to me. And so I survived through most of the summer.
Three weeks ago is where the communication problem seriously started. As the bleeding continued, I was now anxious to hear the gynaecologist’s plan to solve my bleeding problem. Knowing what she told me before about removing my uterus, I was in shock when she said ”Madam, there is no need to remove your uterus now that Mirena does not work with you, and you can stop the anti blood clotting medication. After that we will see how things will be going without those two“.
I was in shock to hear I had to stop my anti blood clotting medication. I immediately recalled what happened 5 years ago. So I asked why should I stop it and she said that she had a discussion with the cardiologist and they concluded that I never really needed it. To me it was so tough to hear from the gynaecologist to tell me to stop medication that I have taken for so long. To me, this seemed just for the purpose of solving my bleeding without really considering my complicated story of heart failure and family history.
And since she informed me at the end of a Friday afternoon there was nothing I could do anymore but to stop the medication at that moment. So you can imagine how scary this idea was for the whole weekend. Meanwhile my pain was killing me and I could not wait to call my GP on the next Monday. And here came another surprise… My GP was not informed by the hospital for me to stop the anti blood clotting medication, she did not receive any update from the cardiologist or gynaecologist at all. So there was no way for her to tell if it was good or not and she advised me to call the cardiologist for him to explain.
So now I tried to reach the hospital to speak to my cardiologist. They said this was not possible as he was on a holiday, so they gave me an appointment for a telephone consultation for 2 weeks later. Can you imagine? Me having urgent questions about why my heart medication was stopped and having to wait for so long? I was angry, felt stressful and had panic attacks in the night. My pain was unbearable. So desperately I approached my pharmacist and she called the hospital to find out how long I would stop. The answer she got was the same, “Stop it, she never needed it”. To me I could not understand why the cardiologist never told me himself in march this year when I visited him, and suddenly my gynaecologist is taking charge of these two diseases?
So, the last 3 weeks I have been calling medical professionals every single day; Two specialists, my GP, and my pharmacist. So often I could not reach them and they would promise to call me back. I was always holding my phone in my hands as I feared missing a call. And so often they didn’t call back at all on the date agreed. Every day I have been crying, scared in the night, and I don’t trust myself anymore when it comes to living my life…
So, where do I stand right now? By now I learned from the cardiologist that the gynaecologist urged him to stop my medication, but that he would have preferred me to stay on the medication to reduce the risk of a heart attack if there were no problems with my bleeding. Meanwhile, the gynaecologist still does not have an alternative, and told me that I have to make a very strong case (myself!) for her to take out my uterus. So I still don’t know what is going to happen.
Dear specialists, I know that each of you is doing a good job for the benefit of your patients. But I would like to ask you to communicate better between yourselves and do so on time. And please keep my GP informed at all times! More importantly, you are dealing with a human being, so make sure you explain very clearly what is going on. And please listen to the concerns of a patient without ignoring his or her family history. The pain I went (and still am going) through I do not wish to any other patient.
Together we are strong! Work together for the sake of a patient with multiple diseases.