Inspiring life of Beauty Queen living with HIV since she was 10
Robinah Babirye was just 10 years old when her mother told her she was HIV Positive.
Her mother took her and her twin sister into her room and told them that they were HIV positive. Robinah recalls that her heart broke into pieces. She felt like her life had come to an end. She asked herself many questions that she never got answers to.
As she got older, Robinah Babirye kept her HIV status a secret at school out of fear of rejection. And because she couldn’t trust anyone, she turned to her journal. She wrote down things she couldn’t tell even her mother. She wrote down her pains, her joys, and every time she finished writing, she felt better.
Throughout high school, Babirye had to lie whenever other students asked her why she was always sickly and taking medication. Their constant probing for answers sometimes frustrated her. She was fed up at a point and even stopped taking her medication as regularly as she should have.
Robinah Babirye had self-stigma. She feared people knowing about her HIV status. She also feared disclosure or anyone noticing anything unusual about her. She feared stigmatization and started pretending to be in a world where she was okay and yet she was not.
Babirye could not understand why out of all the people in the world, she and her sister were the ones infected.
She avoided the school nurse when she was sick out of fear that her blood would be tested and her HIV status discovered.
Like many in this generation, Robinah Babirye turned to Facebook. One morning, she decided to send a message that she would not be beaten. It was time to tell the world about her status. She put on a t-shirt that read, “HIV Positive,” took a photo, posted it on her Facebook page, and waited in fear for the responses.
But the reaction she got was the opposite of what she had expected. People contacted her and encouraged her. Some of them were other young people living with HIV who were amazed at her audacity. She got phone calls from friends that were feeling sorry for her and those that were mad at her for making such a joke.
That was the beginning of Robinah’s journey as an HIV/AIDS ambassador. Emboldened, a few months later, she joined a support group of young people living with HIV who would meet and share their stories. This was an opportunity for her to share her own, giving her the strength she needed to feel like she could move forward with her life.
“I now had purpose,” she says. “I was full of life and I was ready to conquer the world.”
In 2014, Robinah heard about a Miss Young Positive beauty contest organised by the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV. She knew that declaring her status on such a public forum could be either a blessing or a curse—but she went for it anyway.
She decided to enter the contest for Miss YPLus 2015. The contestants were prettier than her and they had these amazing projects they were doing. But as she just presented herself as she was, and she won. It was the happiest day of her life.
Robinah Babirye has been unstoppable ever since. She has shared her story at countless conferences in Uganda, and travelled to Australia to speak to an audience of about 15,000 people during the 2014 AIDS conference.
She was named Young Personality of the Year by the World Savers Network, and spoke at the ICASA AIDS conference in Zimbabwe. Many young Zimbabweans followed her after the conference to ask her how she manages to be that courageous.
Robinah Babirye told these young Zimbabweans that regardless of her HIV status, she has chosen to be happy.
She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in community-based rehabilitation at Kyambogo University in Uganda. After college, Robinah says that she would like to reach out to young, HIV-positive mothers.
Her life’s mission is to fight stigma against people living with HIV.
Robinah Babirye keeps going because many young and old people have approached her to confide in her. She gets countless phone calls from strangers and this makes her feel like she is a change agent, Robinah Babirye says.”
Robinah tells young people that “Having HIV does not mean the end of the world. Go out and achieve your goals and dreams. But as you do this, remember to always take your medication and be in touch with the doctors. Life is not simply about living, it is about how you live it. Don’t dwell on the past. Use the present to create a foundation for the future. It is entirely up to you to determine how firm your foundation will be.”
These are wise words from a determined woman who has already done so much to change her own life, and those of other people living with HIV. Robinah Babirye remains an inspiration to many.