By Naboth Isaac Niwagaba
As the World Celebrated the World AIDS Day on 1st December, we managed to listen to the story of Sheila Naturinda the 21-year-old Beauty Queen living with HIV.
Sheila is the reigning Miss Y+ Queen of Western Uganda, an annual Beauty Pageant organized by the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV – UNYPA.
She was crowned Miss Y+ after the contest that was held at Kabale District Rukiiko hall on 31st October 2020. She was competing with 30 contestants from different districts of Western Uganda. Only four of the 30 contestants were selected to represent Western Uganda in the National Grand Finale that was held on 20th November 2020 at Serena Hotel, Kampala. Sheila was again declared the National Miss Talent Uganda after she demonstrated great skill with a mouth-watering Kinyankole Dance display.
Sheila was born in 1999 in Kamukira cell of Central Division, Kabale Municipality to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Wycliffe Mugisha a Secondary School teacher.
Life was altogether fine until 2014 when she contracted the HIV Virus at age 13. Sheila says she had been sent to her paternal grandmother’s village in Lyantonde District when a certain man found her at home alone and raped her. She shared the sad information with her relatives in the village, but they later unanimously agreed to keep it out of the public by not tracing for the perpetrator. She said she never knew the man since she was new in the village, so to save her future, the parents decided to protect her from the stigma by keeping her story a secret.
However, Sheila started developing general body weakness about two months later. She developed malaria at a later time and she was admitted for two weeks before the test of HIV was carried out and found her positive. She’s not certain whether she got the virus from the rapist, but since there was no one living with HIV in her family those days, Sheila thinks she could have gotten the virus from the rapist. She was then in Primary seven- P.7
Life changed drastically since then, and soon she was enrolled on Anti Retroviral Therapy – ART to protect her from opportunistic infections that follow HIV/AIDS.
Sheilla did not face a lot of stigma during her secondary school life thanks to her dad who was teaching music at her school. She said her dad would always check on her to find out if she was finding trouble taking her medicine or any illness related to her new life of HIV. Apart from one incident where she had carried the ARVs in her school bag and the tins fell down as she was pulling out a book, the rest of her life at school was normal.
Sheila also became a member of a peer-led group called Ariel Clubs. These clubs are supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation funded by USAID. The psychosocial support clubs help reduce the effects of stigma, support acceptance of HIV diagnosis, and adherence to treatment.
Through this network, Sheila met Ms. Hajarah Asiimwe, a former 1st Runners up in the Miss Y+ Beauty pageant 2018, and Yvonne Aine the 2018 Miss Y+2019 western Uganda. Both are Ariel Ambassadors.
Sheila says she met Hajarah in the 2018 beauty pageant Western Uganda Audition. She found out Hajarah was her neighbor in Kamukira. Their homes are a few meters apart. Since then they have been friends. Hajarah asked her to try her luck in the Beauty Pageants. She said she would think about it until June last year when she finally came to terms with her conscience that she would give it a try.
Sheilla is now persuing her teaching course in a Primary Teacher’s institution in Kasese District.
Her thanks go to her Dad Mr. Wycliffe Mugisha and her stepmother who has supported her in the recent beauty contests,
Ms. Yvone was one of the event’s emcees at western Uganda’s Audition in 2020. But she was also assisting Sheila behind the curtains. Yvonne describes Sheila as a disciplined young lady. Yvonne said her main role was to instill confidence in Sheila, and she is glad it worked.
Sheila first contested in 2019, but she did not manage to make it to the top four from western Uganda. She did not give up and patience paid her with Miss y+ Western Uganda for this year.
While addressing the press after the contest in Kabale, Sheila said she planned to use her new title as a platform to fight stigma among the youths living with HIV as well as educating her peers about the dangers of cross-generational sex which exposes them to re-infection.
She’s now an official ambassador of the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV as well as Ariel Ambassador.
However, the road to her success was not all smooth since Sheila still faces challenges of financial instability. She currently has no permanent source of income and she doesn’t own a smartphone which was a determining factor in the recent competitions.