LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS: THE GHANA BEDS PROJECT

The words scratched onto the wall are a haunting reminder of the day a mother lost her daughter to AIDS. With a bright smile that belies her pain, Rose (pictured below) is a Ghanaian woman who lives in abject poverty, suffers from chronic tuberculosis, and is HIV positive. The latter, a condition she keeps secret from even her closest relatives.

In 2008, I travelled to the small town of Bekwai in Ghana’s Ashanti region to take part in a three-month volunteer project with a community-based organisation that works in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness and protection and support of vulnerable women and children. Albert and Evelyn Annadie, the couple who founded the Kaleo Area Women’s Development Association (KAWDA), welcomed me as a 20-something graduate eager to learn about the organisation and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Ghana.

As part of the volunteer project I conducted basic educational workshops about HIV transmission in several schools in the area. I also travelled to remote villages with KAWDA staff members to visit women like Rose in their homes and to deliver donations of food and a small amount of money. Most of the women we visited lived in conditions of extreme poverty with little or no belongings and barely a roof over their heads.

KAWDA serves as a lifeline for women who are tested positive for HIV (usually during pregnancy) and who are unable to seek the emotional support they need from their families for fear of possible rejection and social isolation due to the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS in Ghana. Through a hospital referral, the women are connected with KAWDA, which endeavours to offer the women counselling and emotional support, and the financial means to travel to the nearest town for regular doctor visits as well as the lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs.

On my second visit to Ghana in 2012, I initiated a fundraising campaign to provide beds for the women and children the organisation supports. All of the women whose homes I’d visited were without even a simple mattress where the women, some of whom were extremely thin and frail, could rest and sleep comfortably. In coordination with the organisation, I photographed the women inside their homes in the hope that the pictures would help draw attention to their situation and encourage support for the campaign to get the much-needed beds.

The images were central in generating interest and awareness of the women’s struggle, and I was humbled to see how quickly people back home in the UK began to engage and support the cause. The importance of having a bed to sleep on, especially when ill, is something I think most can easily relate to. With the funds secured I returned to Ghana in February 2014 to buy and deliver the beds to the women.

Rose sits on the ground inside her home where for many years she slept on a sheet on the ground in an empty room.

In the remote villages of Ghana’s Ashanti region, HIV/AIDS is a condition that carries a devastating stigma and a dangerous lack of understanding that often results in rejection, even by family members, and sometimes persecution against those who are affected by it.

Behind her gentle smile, Alimatu’s suffering was clear to see. Extremely thin and weak, she lived through the final stages of AIDS in her family home, yet alone in the knowledge of her condition. Like many who live with HIV/AIDS in Ghana, Alimatu was unable to reveal her HIV status to her family for fear of being rejected and isolated as a result of the stigma and associated shame. She died shortly after this photo was taken in February 2014.

Rose and her family are pictured sitting on the mattresses they received from the campaign.

One of KAWDA’s members and a beneficiary of the Ghana Beds Project is pictured outside her home, which is made of mud and requires constant repair, especially after rain.

Salimatu sits on her mattresses outside her home.

A huge thank you to everyone who supported the campaign and helped make life a little easier for the women of KAWDA.