A Woman Among Women

The cycle of poverty in Bhoke’s family seemed unbreakable. One of 14 children, she recalls going to bed with an empty stomach many nights. Only four of her siblings went to school, and as a female Bhoke was not one of those chosen. Her father was an alcoholic, and when Bhoke was just 16 she escaped her home in the only way she knew how—marriage.

A Woman Among Women
A Woman Among Women

The cycle of poverty in Bhoke’s family seemed unbreakable. One of 14 children, she recalls going to bed with an empty stomach many nights. Only four of her siblings went to school, and as a female Bhoke was not one of those chosen. Her father was an alcoholic, and when Bhoke was just 16 she escaped her home in the only way she knew how—marriage.

“[My husband] was 30 years old, nearly twice my age…” says Bhoke. “I forced myself into marriage after I saw the situation at home was unbearable. I thought marriage would help me.”

Bhoke’s husband was a fisherman, and he spent many days away from home, away from the watchful eye of his wife. In 2007, his health began to fail, and a witch doctor convinced her husband that he had been cursed.

“I was not satisfied by the witch doctor’s answer,” says Bhoke. “I finally convinced my husband to go to the hospital. When he finally agreed, he was diagnosed and found infected with AIDS.”

Bhoke’s husband was given antiretroviral therapy drugs, paid for by the government. But soon he began visiting the witch doctor again, throwing the pills away that the doctors gave him at the clinic. Within a year, Bhoke’s husband died—leaving her to raise their seven children.

Soon Bhoke discovered that her husband had also passed along his terrible disease. It seemed that Bhoke would never break this legacy of poverty and disease.

Soon after her diagnosis, Bhoke learned about a Child Survival Program in her community. She was registered, but was hesitant to disclose her HIV-status, fearful that she would be shunned.

“When I finally told a worker that I had HIV, she explained to me that it meant I would get the support I needed,” says Bhoke. Bhoke began antiretroviral therapy immediately, and the center provided her with additional nutritional support, providing her with the strength to fight the disease.

But as a widowed woman infected with HIV, Bhoke was the target of her husband’s family. His brother sold the home that Bhoke lived in with her children, and they were left homeless overnight. Compassion, through the local church, offered Bhoke temporary shelter, and they assisted her in hiring a lawyer. But Bhoke quickly grew frustrated that she was unable to even sign paperwork, having never learned to read or write. She enrolled in literacy classes through the Child Survival Program, struggling to protect her family.

Today, Bhoke is still fighting to get her home back. But now she fights with hope. She has learned to sign her name and has started her own small business. With each step, she breaks the bonds of poverty and creates a new future for her children.

“I am so happy about what has happened, and I am thankful for Compassion and all who have helped me,” says Bhoke. “I feel like I’m a woman among women. I can stand tall and fight for my rights. I don’t have the fear I used to have and I’m not intimated any longer by the fear of the unknown.”