Stigma, discrimination and lack of awareness are among the biggest obstacles when responding to HIV - especially in a deeply conservative country like Yemen. So how is Progressio dealing with the challenge? These two testimonies show how Progressio's approach is changing, and saving, lives...

Afi's story

Afi, 18 (pictured above), is a Somali refugee who fled to Yemen in February 2012 following the death of his father in the midst of the crisis in Somalia.

"I am a refugee teenager, living alone without the presence of any family or close relatives.

"Though I have heard about HIV and AIDS before, my knowledge was so shallow and I didn’t even know whether HIV is the same or different from AIDS. From the  workshop I have clearly learnt about what is HIV, how it is transmitted and how to protect myself from the risk of infection.

"The training has also changed my attitude towards HIV-positive people. Now I can easily interact with a person living with HIV and not discriminate against them.

"And I have learnt from this workshop the impacts of peer pressure both in positive and negative ways. I learnt to carefully form relationships and not to rush into decisions as a result of peer influence. Because I want achieve my future dreams by continuing my education to get a good job to financially support myself."

Afi, who lives in the capital Sana'a, attended a HIV workshop run by Progressio’s partner organisation Interaction in Development.

Fatima's story

Fatima (not her real name) lives with her husband and three children in the coastal town of Hodeidah.

"We faced serious health problems so we were sent to the central lab in Hodeidah. That’s when we were told that we are infected with HIV and were given information and counselling on HIV for the first time.

"When we discovered that we are infected we didn’t want to go back to our house. I felt at that time that our life is stopped. We thought, what will we do if our family know that we are infected – and our neighbours, our friends and all off society...

"That time we wished for death.

"But when we knew that our children are uninfected, we remembered a proverb which says ‘Better  to light one small candle than to curse darkness’. So we found some small hope – we found a reason to live.

"But at that time, we didn’t have a lot of  information on HIV, so we were afraid of everything. We were afraid that we would die within the year. We were afraid even to touch our children.

"I cannot forgot that time when we would spend all the day without sleeping, being two prisoners in the house.

"One day we visited the central lab and they referred us to Abu Mousa Al-Ashary [Progressio’s partner organisation].

"I remember our first words were: ‘We don’t want anyone to know we are infected.’ But we were surprised when we found that the staff from Progressio and Abu Mousa welcomed us with smiles. We shared our experiences, and they invited us to participate in different training sessions, meetings and workshops.

"Through these, me and my husband have got better understanding, and psychological support and self-esteem. We have started thinking that we can live as long a time as any other person.

"We have started thinking we have dignity when we know that we have rights to live.

"Abu Mousa and Progressio introduced us to other people infected with HIV, through Al Karama, an organisation of people living with HIV. Our meeting with Al Karama gave us better hope. My life turned from a dark space to light.

"Now life is going on as normal. I have become a social woman as I was before. As a result of attending regular support groups I saw people living with HIV cooperating and working together to help each other.

"I have learned to live with dignity and without fear.

"I learned how we can support ourselves, how to protect myself from illness, how to take care of myself and my family, how healthy food and medicine are important.

"I’ve learned how we can love ourselves even if we are people living with HIV."

If you are in London this World AIDS Day, please come along to our Hear 1 Voice poetry and spoken word event!

Progressio has been working with partner organisations in Yemen for 36 years, beginning in 1974, making us one of the longest established international agencies in the country. In the mid-1990s Progressio began to work on issues around HIV in Yemen. Since then we have been one of the lead agencies working alongside UNAIDS and the Yemen National AIDS Programme to raise awareness and help break the silence on HIV. This includes working with religious leaders and the national authorities to address stigma and discrimination, as well as supporting those directly affected. We have also played a key role in developing Voluntary Counselling and Testing centres.