The first time I met Joyce, I was shooting people who are HIV Positive for the Global Fund. Mawuli was the one filming the interviews so I didn’t get to hear much of her story directly since I tend to shoot quietly but the little I heard stayed with me.This year, I have decided to photograph what matters most to me as a matter of priority. I don’t think there’s a family in Ghana that has not been directly or indirectly affected by HIV and AIDS but many years after the discovery of this disease, nobody talks about it. It is a taboo topic in most homes. A lot of companies fire employees when they find out they are HIV positive. Many marriages have been wrecked and children orphaned by it.
But the biggest problem with HIV is not the infection itself but the stigma that comes with it. All initial advertising and mass communication material created within Africa were scary. The intent was to scare people off from unprotected sex but in the end it backfired and most people are genuinely afraid to have anything to do with someone living with HIV and AIDS.
Joyce was infected at the age of 19 by a 47 year old man she used to sing with in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church choir. When she got pregnant, he gave her money many times to abort and when she refused, he abandoned her. When she was seven months pregnant, she took a routine HIV and AIDS test in the hospital and discovered she was positive. Since her ex-lover won’t pick her calls, he only confirmed through a text message that he had deliberately infected her. Two months after she had her son, the man died. Just before she could get over the trauma of being infected with HIV and AIDS and raising a son as a single parent, word spread in her neighbourhood that she was HIV positive and she was beaten and kicked out of her house by her neighbours.
Joyce says the one year of waiting to find out the status of her son was the longest most difficult wait of her life. Fortunately, that son was negative. She’s now married to an amazing man- Ben, with whom she has Dela a beautiful little girl who is also HIV negative. Joyce is a trained seamstress but her passion is music and she’s been a back up vocalist and dancer for some of Ghana’s top musicians. She’s also a singer in her own right, has an album to her credit and is currently working on a new one.
Joyce says “I decided to take the job away from the gossips. I decided to share my own story” and today, she is invited into schools, churches and organisations to spread the word.
More to come. Have a great week.