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+TALK: DOREEN MORAA MORACHA

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Doreen Moraa Moracha and Karl Schmid

KARL

She’s a stigma warrior in Kenya and she’s up next.

Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we are all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today is joining us from Kenya. That’s right. I said it. Kenya. The other side of the planet. She calls herself a stigma warrior and you just need to look at her Instagram to know that that is true and a whole lot more. She’s very accomplished and I’m so excited to talk to Doreen Moraa Moracha. Hi Doreen!

DOREEN

Hi how are you? I am super star struck right now.

KARL

Oh don’t be. I’m starstruck at you because look you’re part of the global health collaboration on HIV, you’re a young leader with the International AIDS society, and what I love about you is you describe yourself as a beautiful story. You’re a young woman living with HIV in Kenya and you’ve found, you’re the founder of I Am a Beautiful Story. Tell me about this initiative.

DOREEN

So I Am a Beautiful Story is a digital initiative that I founded way back in 2015 and I did that because I realized that we have an issue when it comes to normalizing the HIV conversation here in Kenya and with HIV prevalence very high I realized that there has to be something that we are doing wrong. In terms of we have treatment, we have very nice health facilities but still I realized that there was a gap that we were not addressing and that was the issue of stigma so I formed I Am a Beautiful Story to normalize the HIV conversation fast and also to address issues of HIV and AIDS stigma by using my lived experience. So basically what I do is put my face out there and give the virus a face because it’s one of the things that is not done commonly especially in Kenya where we know that people are living with HIV we just don’t know who they are so I always tell people you know there are 1.5 million people living with HIV in Kenya so at least you know one possible is me so if you’re also living with HIV like me then we are two people who know each other.

KARL

And I love it that you refer to HIV as your little friend on your social media, too. I think that’s great. What’s the reaction been like not just in Kenya but because you’ve done so well with this you are sort of now recognized around the world.

DOREEN

Yeah, the reaction so far has been amazing I can say because I have found that I have a following literally across the world of people who follow me, who follow my story, who relate to my story and the beauty about this is it’s not just people living with HIV. It’s also people who don’t have HIV and that is actually what makes me so happy because I know that it’s not, I’m not only creating an impact for people who are positive, I’m creating the impact also to people who are HIV negative who are probably effected or who are following me so that they can prevent themselves from getting HIV so it makes feel very happy.

KARL

Yeah and also be educated about HIV and realize that HIV isn’t the big bad monster that’s coming to get you and destroy your life. Right, now you found out you were HIV positive when you were 13 and you decided to talk about it publicly really when you were 15. That’s quite young for anybody, let’s face it, let alone somebody in Kenya where you talk about stigma. How did you come to this decision to go I’m gonna talk about this publicly?

DOREEN

So I decided to talk about my HIV status publicly because when I was growing up my parents found out about my HIV status when I was eight-years old but they only told me five years later and at that point when I was told I kind of went into denial and got self-stigma and even I stopped taking my ARVs for a while and I believed that I was cured of HIV because I had taken some traditional herbal medication so all of those things combined made me feel that there is an issue we need to address. Because I was going through that at that particular moment, how many people go through that every other day? So I wanted them to learn from my story that HIV is not the death sentence we used to know, that things have changed that now we can live our lives beyond our diagnosis and that is why I decided you know let me just tell these people this is what, and initially when I started the whole issue was not even the stigma and the disclosure. It was basically to encourage people to get tested so if they see me they know that we cannot just test people by looking at their physical appearance but we need to actually know about if this person is living with HIV or not so when I first started even the people who told me just come out, try and explain to people, it was in a job setting and they told me do it so that people can get to know their HIV status and then later on I realized that our problems with HIV are not just testing. The issues of appearance, there’s the issue of disclosure and stigma and then I took it up from there.

KARL

Yeah and what I also love about you is you say you’re not a victim. You are a victor. Your only living with a health condition, a small virus that lives in my blood. I’m it’s host and it’s my guest. It’s such a good way to look at it. Now a big moment happened for you when you were awarded the AYP Community Advocacy Award by the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya so what is the AYP Community Advocacy Award, it’s a lot of words, and what does that mean and what did that do as far getting the word out that it is just your little friend and guest who’s living in your blood?

DOREEN

So every two years the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya does this very beautiful conference. It’s called the Myesha Conference. Myesha in Kenya means life so this is Plus Life so you see the relation. So Myesha in Kenya means life so the Myesha conference basically brings together advocates, activists, researchers, policy makers, and basically even implementing in Kenya to figure out where we are with HIV, what we need to do, what is working, and what is failing. So when this year, I saw the call for application to nominate someone for the, you can nominate someone or you can actually nominate yourself for the Myesha AYP Award. I said why not, let me go for it and show that this is the work I have done around advocacy but specifically digital advocacy focus because one of the things that was noticed up until 2020 was the digital advocacy part, especially in Kenya. People look at your posting stuff about HIV on social media and they’re like we’re just used to this person. They just unfollow us, but then last year was the wake up call that we can actually use social media for good and to advocate the issues around HIV so when I applied the National AIDS Control Council said I was one of the highest scoring applicants and so they awarded me the Advocacy Award for Adolescents and Young People.

KARL

And look we love it because it’s connected you and I and you’re spreading this fantastic message out there and around the world. Last question for you real quick here. To your family members, your brothers, your sisters, and your family, your post tribe over here in the United States, what would you like them to know? What do you want you people to know about HIV these days?

DOREEN

So I would like to tell them that HIV is not a death sentence, one. Two, in 2021 we have come so far in terms of research, in terms of treatment and we are doing so well like right now we have the . Who thought from a time when there was zero treatment, we would have reached a time when people living with HIV would have the hope of living their lives and being more than just HIV positive. Now we are thriving positively out here. So if in case you get HIV, don’t give up. It’s not the end of life. It is not a death sentence. You are not going to die. Start your treatment and be an amazing host to that very tiny guest because you are amazing already and that to people who do not have HIV in the United States and they’re listening to me, please stay negative. Prevent yourself because HIV is very preventable. That is all that I can say.

KARL

Wow, you are by far my favorite stigma warrior in Kenya and I’ve gotta say around the world. Doreen thank you so much for your time. It’s so lovely to chat with you and I hope we can do it again soon.

DOREEN

Thank you so much and I truly appreciate and thanks for the opportunity.

KARL

Of course. That is gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk on Plus Life. If you want to find out more information or you want to get Doreen’s social handles cause you should, check out the website, pluslifemedia.com and also follow us across social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia. We’ll make sure all of Doreen’s detail is on the website as well as our social. Her posts are funny and smart and you just look at them. I get here at 5 o’clock in the morning. I take a look and they make me smile. So that is all for this episode of Plus Talk. We’ll see you next time. Take care of each other. Bye bye.

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