Ngozi’s Story: Living with HIV in Nigeria

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Lane Hartill, the CRS regional information officer for West Africa, visits with Ngozi Nwega and her family. Photo by CRS staff

I’ve never hugged anyone with HIV. That all changed when I met Ngozi.

Ngozi Nwega lives down a dirt alley in a two-room concrete apartment in Benin City, Nigeria. When I entered her living room with HIV outreach workers from the health unit at the Archdiocese of Benin City, she was barefoot and smiling. She curtsied to me, showed me to the faded couch, and walked over and turned down the volume on the TV. The Curious George cartoon was much too loud.

Ngozi sat down next to me and poured her heart out: a forced marriage at 15, a husband who died after contracting HIV, a family that rejected her. Two of her children died soon after they were born. She became desperately ill. Nkechi, her oldest daughter, quit school to take care of her. Ngozi’s new husband – who paid for medical bills after she became ill – tried to strangle her, saying she would die anyway.

Ngozi told me this with the relaxed tone of someone reading the ingredients on a can of soup.

We’d only been there 10 minutes when the electricity cut out. The overhead fan stopped. And I started sweating. The room grew thick with humid heat. Perspiration poured down my back. This, I thought to myself, is what Ngozi and the kids sleep in every night.

“The man returned me to my parents,” she continued. “On the way to the village, it’s a miracle I didn’t die. When I got to the village, everyone ran from me. Even my father ran away.”

The stigma of HIV is high in Nigeria. Many believe it’s a death sentence.

Maybe it was the heat. Or maybe the rush of memories overwhelmed her. But Ngozi lost it. She cried into her blue wraparound skirt, each memory pushing out more tears. But she refused to stop telling her story. It was a testimony, she said. It was cathartic, I thought.

But then she found the Archdiocese of Benin City. CRS supports their health unit and the team that works with HIV-positive Nigerians and their children. Vivienne, an outreach worker through the archdiocese, came to Ngozi’s house and gave her rice and beans. She took the kids to the zoo. She made sure the children’s school fees were paid. And that the mosquito net was hung and Ngozi takes her antiretroviral drugs.

We walked outside her apartment and all piled onto the decaying couch. I put my arms around Ngozi and her family. I couldn’t believe that this smiling, resilient woman next to me, this woman who is my own age, had lived through all this. I couldn’t believe she shared such an intimate story with me.

Lane Hartill is Catholic Relief Services’ regional information officer for West Africa. He is currently traveling in Nigeria.

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7 Responses to “Ngozi’s Story: Living with HIV in Nigeria”

  1. Carole Says:

    When I saw these things first hand elsewhere, I wondered “How much tragedy can any woman handle?” I think God is truly working hand in hand with the people who help support the lives of women and children in Africa. These stories need to be told because there is are so many seed of hope being sown in this world!

  2. MIRWAIS Harooni Says:

    It is too much difficult for me to touch somebody that has HIV, I admire your braveness, but thank those who handle this and never hesitate about the side effects –if it has- and they still try to help the victims. I hit HIV and I feel very poor for those who are caught to it, but very proud for those who help them.

  3. Ahmad Wamique Says:

    I wish I could meet Ngozi and her cute children too. I hope I could huge them and cry for the future waiting for the them. I have heard many times that HIV is dangerous, but why still the world is not doing anything specific about it, to prevent people infecting to it?

  4. Isi Olajide Says:

    Thank God for CRS and other NGOs in Nigeria meeting the needs of people living with HIV. This story of Ngozi should be read by all and told to PLWHA to bring hope and succour to them. We can all help to give a smile to many by supporting the work of CRS.

  5. nathaniel Says:

    I will to work for an organization like yours where the whole of me would be put into the service of God and humanity. Pls, how do I get involved. Also working on a youth empowerment organization. I don’t know if you can be of help to me with respesct to grants to execute some of my projects. Thanks.

  6. Okezie Okwumo Says:

    I believe that we should be there for one another and try giving hope to the hopeless. what you and the catholic church have just done for this poor woman is partly what I am doing for a friend of mine who is also living with the Virus. They need to be reassured , not just financially but be supported emotionally. Let us be the best support system we can possibly be to them.

  7. Ande Saleh Says:

    I am surprise people still contract HIV/AIDS despite the awareness and campaign against the spread of the virus.

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