At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Uganda was one of the worst hit countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Even as improved ARTs started to mean a near-normal life expectancies for people living with HIV/AIDS, tens of thousands of families were left reeling from the loss of livelihoods and savings; the effects of which are still seen today, some 20 years later.
“When I was in primary school, my father got very, very sick,” says Tadeo, who today is 27 years old. “You wouldn’t imagine the change in him in one week – he was so weak, he couldn’t speak.” Tadeo’s father was in this condition for several years, until he started getting ARTs through TASO (The AIDS Support Organisation). But even then, the drugs had a lot of side effects, and he was in a lot of pain. “After all that sickness, he lost his job and his savings,” Tadeo continues. “There was a big change in our lifestyle. Now we could afford nothing – not even food, let alone school fees.”
As a TASO client, the family received senior school scholarship for one child in the family, for which they chose Tadeo. The extended family pulled together to pay for the rest of the siblings to attend local schools. The silver lining, for Tadeo, was that he got to complete his secondary education at a ‘good quality’ boarding school his family never could have afforded. “I kept thinking ‘the only way out of this life is an education’ so I worked very hard, performed well and won prizes.”
At the age of 19, Tadeo graduated with the grades to join any university of his choosing. “But there was no money for tuition fees,” Tadeo says. “I spent that long vacation after graduating, tormented, wondering what would happen to me. I was losing hope, thinking I would be the only one in my group of friends not getting a higher education. When they asked me what university I was going to, I would just lie and say ‘Makerere’ in order to fit in. In the end, I would avoid them completely, because all they talked about was university.”
Then, Tadeo received the second big break of his young life, when a family member connected him to Antoine Chiquet, Co-Founder of Komo Learning Centres. “Antoine and his family had decided to fund my higher education,” Tadeo says, remembering the tears of relief and gratitude flowing down his face. “I just couldn’t believe it. I had lost hope, and now someone was offering me to go to university. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt like I belonged again, and started reconnecting with my friends.”
Tadeo studied accountancy at Makerere Business School, graduating in January 2014, after which he volunteered at a local HIV NGO called Mpoma Community HIV/AIDS Initiative. When KLC opened the NAWEC health centre in June 2014, Tadeo jumped at the chance to give something back. “I joined as an Accountancy Assistant, and was quickly promoted to Finance and Operations Manager. I am very happy working in this clinic, because I always wanted to do something that contributes to my community, and now I have that opportunity. Education changed my life; it gave me a better future. Now, I tell this to the KLC students to motivate them to make the most of the opportunity they are getting here.”
Tadeo never forgets the break he got, and often reflects on what would have happened to him without the support of Antoine. “I compare my life with my siblings and cousins who didn’t get this opportunity, and we have totally different lifestyles. A lot of them tell me that they have miserable lives, that they have lost focus and hope – many of them turn to drugs and alcohol.
“I’m telling you, we have so many kids here who can’t access proper education. But if you give one kid a chance, then you can change communities, because you empower that one youth to help other children and their parents and siblings. Helping one child develop, you end up helping a whole bunch of people.”