The inspiring Honduran activist and poet, Benita Ramírez (50), tells how she emerged from the shock and despair of her HIV diagnosis to become a leading voice in the fight against AIDS.
Benita was 41-years-old, a mother of four and studying at night to get her secondary school diploma when she received the devastating news that she was HIV positive.
Benita Ramirez, 2013. Photo: Gerardo Aguilar
“During this stage, I told myself: and now…? What is going to happen to me? But, why me? I’m not a prostitute! I watched how other patients died in the room of the hospital and that affected me more. For me, AIDS was a synonym of death.”
“In that moment I had no idea about what HIV was and its meaning in my life. I did not want to know anything, my self-esteem was low. I was a devastated woman and from that point, my life would change 360 degrees.”
After several months in hospital, Benita then began receiving home visits by two women volunteers Trudys and Lilia, both HIV positive.
“In those moments of denial, I pretended I was sleeping. I didn’t want to about anybody. But their support was crucial in my recovery. And since then, my adherence has been very good.”
Through these critical relationships Benita learned about support services and civil society organisations working to fight HIV.
“This is how I went to the organisation Calidad de Vida (Quality of Life), which is a Trócaire partner. Over there, I learned that the HIV was not going to kill me. I learned to love me, accept myself as I am and value myself as a woman. I began to get to know everything about the disease there. I got psychological support and I raised my self-esteem. Since it had not finished my studies, I was also motivated do it and I finally could! I finished my secondary education.”
HIV in Honduras
The AIDS epidemic in Honduras, as in many parts of the world, has undergone a ‘feminisation’ in recent years. In 1986, the man/woman ratio in reported HIV cases was approximately 2:1, by 2005 this gap was almost closed. According to UNAIDS information, it was estimated that by 2003 there were 33,000 women, between 15 and 49 years old, living with HIV in Honduras.
The Network of Positive Women in Honduras was born in response to the need to develop strategies to reduce the social and cultural vulnerability of women to the HIV epidemic. This organization, of which Benita is a prominent member, now has a presence in eight cities in Honduras and is a major civil society actor on HIV.
Through her involvement in civil society groups, Benita began to build a reputation as a vocal and effective HIV activist.
“I began to show up in the mass media. The first time that I was in a TV program, I thought ‘I am black, I am a woman and I am HIV positive. But I am going to make a difference.’ And I began to give a testimony that the fight against HIV is difficult, that we must not lock ourselves up, we must find someone who inspires us confidence in order to talk about our condition, because if I had not done so I would not be here now.”
Inspired by the women, who supported her after her diagnosis, Benita volunteers at Forosida (another Trócaire partner) and devotes her time to supporting other people living with HIV in the community – doing home visits and accompanying people to health centres and hospitals, as well as promoting prevention and solidarity.
She also writes poetry, and shares two of them here. The first, Fear, was written with her friend Trudys Perez who died from HIV. Trudys visited Benita at home after her diagnoses and motivated her to carry on. The second is called Triumph. Both poems featured in a 2010 collection Living+: Testimonies, poetry and hopes from people living with HIV/AIDS.
I do not want to see anybody
That takes peace away
Fear of death
the sound of the wind
lifts my hair
of my old spirit
I learned to succeed.
Benita is now studying social development management and says her goal is “founding an organisation of women to provide accompaniment, teach them about self-care, adhesion and their rights, with branches throughout Honduras.”