The Ogechi Stella Njoku story: Raped twice, living with HIV and standing tall against all odds
Ogechi was raped twice at the age of 16 on different occasions while hawking. The mother of four and graduate of Economics from the University of Ibadan is also living with HIV, a discovery that almost shattered her dreams and made her give up on life. The only child of her mother and staff of the Nigerian Society of Engineers was all over the internet last week when she opened up about her status and also shared her story and deepest pain. Though Ogechi runs her own company while still being gainfully employed , she is determined to use her story to touch lives and also change the perception of the society about HIV and stigmatization.
My background and story
Yes, my childhood experience was characterized with hard work, which propelled me into becoming an independent woman. It gave me the sense of understanding that no one owes me anything, it made me understood that I am responsible for either my success or my failure. I was born into the family of Eight Children, and I was the last born but unfortunately, I lost Seven of my Senior Siblings, making me an only child. I lost my father too, as a child, hence I was singlehandedly trained by my mother.My mother was a petty trader who hawked on different seasonal fruits, ranging from oranges, avocado peers, banana, etc. And when in, out of season, she trades on kola nuts. While growing up, I watch my mother cried every night, her pains was greater than I could imagine, I couldn’t proffer solution, all I could say then whenever she cried was “Aunty ndo kwanu” (Aunty sorry) yes, I call my mother Aunty till date.
The pains of losing her Seven Children one after the other to the cold hands of death was excruciatingly great to her heart, to a point she almost lost hope that she had me. At any little experience, she would wish she wasn’t living, she often makes reference to them. I assured her and reassured her each time she cried that “I WILL BE TO HER, WHAT THE SEVEN DEAD CHILDREN WOULD HAVE BEEN TO HER”.
Raped twice while hawking
My growing up was like hell, I would hawk from 6am-9am before going home to prepare for school, immediately after school, I would hit the street again to hawk, that was our only source of livelihood, the proceeds were used for our feeding and my school fees and books, during holidays, my effort triples. My Hawking experience became bitter when I was deflowered by raped at 16, in 1996, I lost my virginity. Nothing could be done to the guy who did it because his father was the chairman of one of the local government in IMO state then, so my mother dare not raise such accusations against the high and mighty. My experience became more bitter when I was raped for the second time by gangs of men in pretense of trying to buy my market, they successful cornered me and over powered me at Ekeonunwa market Owerri. I hated hawking, my passion for education grew, my dream to become someone influential and rich grew, my vision for life became my burning desire. I was determined by quest to take care of my mother and make her proud, hence I wasn’t ready to allow any challenges deter it. I kept pushing on.
Journey to Lagos
After my secondary education in 1997, I journeyed to Lagos in 1998, life was hell, at a point, I lived in an uncompleted building for over a year without anyone knowing that someone lives in there, because I would leave there as early as 4 am to go to where I worked as sales girl with a salary of 3,000 and would come home very late, the supermarket I worked for, used to close by 10pm, before I would get home, it would be 11pm.
When I had a change of work, I worked for Linar Pharmacy at Salvation road Opebi, Ikeja. Seeing my boss children who were schooling at University of Lagos, my enthusiasm for education and good life intensifies the more. I reassured myself of my dreams of becoming a graduate. Then I knew I won’t just sit down and dream, hence I changed my job of a sales girl to a cleaner, so that I could attend my computer school.While in computer school at Allen avenue, Ikeja, I became very close to one of my course mate “Late Akpa Elina Odachi” (may her soul Rest in Peace) whose father was a Soldier and mother was a mobile Police Officer, they were living in Sam Ethan Air Force Base, Ikeja. She noticed that I was living in an uncompleted building, and sought to know why, I explained, she highlighted the dangers of me staying in there, should area boys become aware. So, she suggested to take me to her parents in the barracks, that was how my how my journey to the barracks started.
The beginning of my ordeal
Life in the barracks was sweet till I started dating a Soldier, pregnancy came, children came, no marriage, the sweetness of my soul was taken away, I was abused both by the father of my kids and his relatives. I was abandoned, in fact the soldier worked his posting out, that was how I started hawking again, joined cleaning work to it, to sustain myself and kids, in 2005 I decided to become a soldier through recruit, I bought the Air Force form, took my kids home to my mother. It was in the course of medical screening, they found out that I was pregnant again for my soldier boyfriend again, hence I was dropped. All hope to good life were lost. My soldier friend still insisted that there will be no marriage.
My suffering increased, the sisters of the father of my kids would mock me, each time they saw me hawking oranges in the street of Oshodi, Lagos or they saw me sweeping the blocks of barracks, they concluded that I wanted to entangle their younger brother with pregnancy to gain marriage, they were all graduates, I was just a WAEC holder, cum an orange seller and a cleaner. The disparities between us were much, the gap was too much, they saw nothing good in me, Their constant mockery was a reminder to my ambitions.
The need to double up for survival
In 2007, I doubled my cleaning work alongside my hawking business with the view of saving more money to go to school even if it is on part time bases. I swept the barracks and washed the gutters from 4am – 5:30 am, moved straight to oshodi market to buy my oranges before 6:30am, then prepared before 7:30 am to Pacific Access Limited, to clean their office, by 9am I am through with all cleaning work, I would go home, rest till 12pm, then wash my oranges, and hit the streets for my hawking business. Some days, I would make sales ranges from 3,000-5,000 per day, then get monthly salary of 5,000 for cleaning the barracks, also 5,000 from cleaning Pacific Access limited. In a month I have savings from incomes ranging from 30,0000-40,000. My hope for school started rising.
The “Plot Twist” moment
On August 29, 2007, I came to clean office as usual, I found a Wednesday Punch Newspaper on my boss table, dated August 28, 2007, 1 flipped through the pages, I saw job advertisement for junior staff with minimum of Diploma and must be computer literate. I checked out for its location and organization, it was Abuja, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, National Headquarters, National Engineering Center. My instinct told me to apply, I came home and told everyone, they all discouraged me, except one officer, Warrant Officer Ogumuyiwa who encouraged me to try my luck. I did, passed the aptitude test and interview and was given the job. I assumed office on 16th November, 2007, that was beginning of my breakthrough. My dreams became true. I found favour among my colleagues, Management Staff and the entire organization favored and blessed me. In 2009, I gained admission to study Financial Accounting at Fidie Polytechnic Gboko, Benue state, I got my National Diploma in 2011, in 2012, I gained admission to study B. Sc. in Economics at University of Ibadan, Oyo state through Direct Entry. My dreams to become a graduate and take care of my mother came true against all odds, against all my failures and challenges, I conquered my fears and dismay.
I became a mother at age 22, a single mother of four children at age 28, started higher institution at age 29, owned a car at age 31, became an Oracle Database Certified Expert at 32, a landlady in Abuja at age 33, a graduate of Economics 2015/2016 at 36, established BDMG Resources Limited on 5th April, 2017, before my 37th Birthday. Currently writing my ICAN and ACCA Professional Certification Exams. Above all, I am still gainfully employed with the Nigerian Society of Engineers, “the engine room of my breakthrough”.
God is my all in all, His grace, favour and mercy found me was sufficient unto me and became my enabler, my mother is my Rock, my children are my motivators, The Nigerian Society of Engineers (The best Organization) was my strength, and MY VISION WAS MY DRIVE.
Heartbreaking moment I found out my HIV status
My only regret was becoming HIV positive, but I thank God that all my children are NEGATIVE and their father is also NEGATIVE. Surviving the reality of living with HIV became my greatest challenge, my worst nightmare, the thought was killing, the pains was excruciatingly great, better imagine than experiencing.
HIV is a management disease, and not a killer disease, it is the fear of stigmatization and discrimination that leads to living in self-pity/denials which leads to AIDS, which is the killer. I conquered the FEARS . I became adherent to my ARV, today I am gladly living positively healthy with my viral load undetectable and high CD4 count.
I felt terribly bad, for months I lived in denial, I found it difficult to accept, I felt disappointed in myself, I thought I had become a failure, I was at the verge of giving up, but the thought of how my kids and my aged mother would survive without me changed my mind, hence I came to reality with my new-found status. I decided that I will live and I will conquer every fear associated with being HIV Positive, I braced up and started making website research to understand if truly victims of HIV can live a normal live. When I found out that it was possible to have an undetectable viral load and high CD4 count even with the presence of HIV in the blood stream, then I decided that I would be an example of such. Today I am happily living that fulfilled life.
Why I opened up about my status
Smiles…My inspiration was drawn from the knowledge I gained while studying what HIV entails. Applying the things, I learnt from the HIV health counsellors while being counseled and my personal research from World Health Organization (WHO) and USAIDS websites proved to me beyond every reasonable doubt that HIV is not a killer disease, if only victims adheres to their ARV drugs. Hence my passion to see people live above their fears of HIV grew. My enthusiasm to change the Myths people held about HIV grew. I knew that I needed to lend a voice, I understood that such long held Myth about HIV can only be changed true a healthy life of a testimony from a victim of HIV.
Becoming a single mum at 28 and balancing it all
Yes, I became a single mother of four children at age 28, prior to that, I had already been gainfully employed, hence I had inflow of cash. Nevertheless, I was able to balance motherhood, job and academic career with the assistance of my mother. I stopped my mother from hawking to enable her live with me. She was saddled with the responsibilities of taking care of my children after they returned from school on the daily basis while I concentrated on my job and the pursuit of my academic career.
The Joy of being my own boss and still gainfully employed
My driving force was my vision of becoming influential and rich. Having tested poverty, I told myself that I will plan my life very well to escape poverty. Living a life of poverty is liken unto living in hell, hence I never wanted my children to experience what I encountered, hence the need to plan for better stream of income became my driving force.
I am a networker, indulging into divers networking marketing. I believe that wealth is not gotten through one stream of income but through multiple channels of activities that yields money. I am also a freelance writer, with www.upwork.com.
My most ever regarded reward was the award of “THE MOST IMPROVED STAFF OF THE YEAR 2010” by The Nigerian Society of Engineers, National eadquarters.
Nigerians not well sensitized on how to respond and relate to HIV victims
No, Nigeria and Nigerians needs more sensitization on HIV and its management. Records has proven that we are still holding firm to the Myths we believe about HIV. Nigerians still believe that the virus can only and strictly be gotten through sex. Some are of the opinion that it is an airborne or a highly contagious disease, hence their attitude of stigmatization and discrimination is unavoidably evident to victims of HIV. Some see it as a spiritual attack, hence resorted to seeking prayers and miracles against seeking for medical attention, they Christianized it to a belief of an act of witches and wizards. Very ironic.
If you had the opportunity to proffer a solution to HIV victims, what would it be
1. I will first help them to conquer their fears by understanding that nothing is capable of killing your soul except what you yielded to. 2. I will teach them boldness to accept their new status, no one can make you worse off, without your consent, hence they need to understand how to kill the greatest enemy of their boldness which is SELF PITY. Above all, I will help them to delete the concept of seeing HIV as a spiritual attack
I am a woman of Rubies
My Braveness and heart of determination distinguishes me as a woman of Rubies
Final word for women who are passing through Challenges and living with HIV
Trust in God, the author and finisher of our faith and never give up on yourself.
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