National Mr. Y+ Ambassador for Uganda Micheal Senyonga has urged other people living with HIV/AIDS to come out openly about their status if they are to curb the stigma surrounding the disease.
He said this while in an interview with RX Radio’s Crystal Newman on The Groove, during the Groove Cafe segment.
With numerous accolades to his name, 21-year-old Senyonga grew up in a humble family background in the hills of Kasese with his father who died when he was four. He was then left to roam on the streets of Kasese till he got picked by his father’s friend that took him to his home.
When tested for HIV and found positive, Senyonga says that his guardian became overwhelmed that he decided to give him up to an orphanage where he later got picked by his grandmother.
At the age of 12, Senyonga was pushed to open up about his status whenever he was given a punishment that he saw as detrimental to his health. “I was in primary six by then and that week we were doing hand work that I had missed. So the punishment given to us was to sleep under the sun for six hours. It made me so angry that I rose up and asked the teacher, ‘Madam, don’t you know that I am HIV positive and I could die here?’ So I disclosed my status in anger but not intentionally,” he narrated.
Years later, Senyonga started active advocacy for HIV/AIDS, and came into national recognition when the Uganda Network Of People Living With HIV staged a beauty contest for Mr and Mrs Y+ Beauty Contest in Kasese sub-region.
However, with little knowledge about the purpose of the event, Senyonga, invited by a messenger from the hospital where he often received medication, blindly joined the pageant. This was in his senior four, though he had never publicly disclosed his status at his secondary school.
“At the event, I saw people cooking and was told to invite my friends so we could eat together. So I went and collected my friends,” he elaborated. At the time of the event, Senyonga also got a contestant T-shirt though he was still unaware of what the event was about.
“I was made contestant number 10 and being backstage, I didn’t know what was taking place until it was my turn. When I entered, I saw judges, Members of Parliament, cameras and wondered what was happening. So when I was asked questions, I answered contrarily since I was oblivious that the theme was on HIV. When I got done with the questions and was leaving, one of the judges called me back and asked me the hardest question. He asked, ‘Micheal, are you HIV positive?’
“With my friends and girlfriends and cameras in the room, I just broke into tears and said yes and ran backstage.” From the pageant, Senyonga emerged the regional winner for Western Uganda and started HIV advocacy in Kasese after emerging as the national winner of Mr.Y+.
Crystal, who was concerned about the stigma Senyonga grew up facing, asked if he had seen any change concerning the treatment of people living with HIV. In his response he said; “Stigma is still on the rise in communities, but it's mainly due to lack of information. We need champions who are going to publicly disclose their status and to inform communities that we are still human, we can still live and that having HIV is not a limit to what we do or the end of life.”
However, he affirmed that there has been more change that has been coaxed by people coming out openly to reveal their positive status, arguing that though one may get scorned for it, the same people will be the ones to privately ask for moral assistance.
Aside from being the National Mr.Y+ Ambassador in Uganda, he is also a youth representative to the Global Fund CCM of Uganda, a community led monitor under the ‘Iraka Lya Abantu’ Project of the US Presidential Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. He is also a member of the Covid-19 task force of Kasese.
The Groove Cafe with Crystal Newman airs every Weekday from 4-5pm on RX Radio.
Download the RX Radio app: