Writing Competition 2022: Beauty in My Shame – Defining What Courage Is to Me

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In my mind, I have always been a very courageous girl. Even in the moments when I was unsure of things, I did things while afraid. But there were moments when my experiences led me to say to myself, “That took courage.”

Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

Written by Joshine Achieng'

If I were to answer the question of what courage meant to me in October of 2020, I would have easily said that it was going public about my HIV status even though there is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to living with HIV. Of the few people that I had shared with my plans of fighting the stigma around HIV through creating awareness, most of them told me it was a bad idea. Apparently, a lot was at stake for me. For example, having just completed my university, they said it would make it hard for me to get a job. 

Keeping silent about my HIV status, then, meant I had given it power over me. I am glad I refused to give it that power. Through my status, I formed a support group for women living with HIV in my hood, Mathare. Through the group, Beauty In My Shame, we created our own safe space to share our struggles of living with HIV. We also give each other tips on how to survive on ARVS in the slums, where most people still see HIV as a death sentence.

Today, courage means a totally different thing to me. On my birthday, June 5th, I usually reflect on how the previous year unfolded as I begin my new year. This year, a part of me was extremely proud of the things that I had done in the year that was ending. My accomplishments might not seem major, but I understand their power. To be able to create a healthy environment for myself by eliminating people – family – who were a danger to my mental health was a struggle but worth it.

The other part of me was left wondering, when had I gotten so comfortable with allowing fear to rule my life? In my mind, I had always been a very courageous girl. Even in the moments when I was unsure of things, I did things while afraid. Let me give a little context.

I read somewhere that self-awareness extends to a person’s understanding of his or her values and goals. The decisions of self-aware people mesh with their values. Consequently, they often find work to be energising. I had two jobs.

Job number one was my dream job, working for and in the community in which I had been born and raised. My boss, a family member, was pretty cool. At least he had been most of the time until he threw a bottle of vodka towards me due to rumours that he had heard concerning me. The rumours were from the people I considered family then. Lucky for me, the bottle did not harm me. 

In my culture, we are taught how to compartmentalise from an early age. We never get to talk about such things, so as expected, I didn’t think much of the incident. Six months down the line on June 5th, there I was, monitoring and evaluating the previous year, and I could no longer just push aside the incident. It stung and it was too painful for me.

Continuing to stay at the job felt like a betrayal of my value system. There was no excuse for violence. The question that helped me in making the decision to leave was, what if the bottle harmed me? Would I have been able to forgive him? Resigning from that job was the most frightening yet liberating thing I have ever done. Some people might look at it as a major loss but to me, it will always be a win. Experience has taught me that it always starts with an accident then before you know it, you become a victim of violence, gender-based or other. I am glad I closed that door! It was the real definition of courage, at least to me.

Job number two was also my dream job. Working with children in the community that I was born in, and getting to see the love of my life on a daily – lol, love is crazy. Long story short, I no longer felt energised working for that organisation. All I wanted was to focus on my support group. Good thing it was an internship that was to end at the end of June. One thing about me, I usually know when it's time for me to leave, I would say it’s my superpower. Lucky for me, the job offer did not come, but I have a feeling it’s because the love of my life shared this with the organisation. All in all, I would say it took courage for me to decide to give my full focus to my support group. Yes, we might not have all the resources required, but I am glad I decided to give, Beauty In My Shame, a chance.


Joshine Achieng' is a 26-year-old woman who is very passionate about working with women living with HIV in the informal settlement. Joshine studied Communications and Media at Kisii University, and she enjoys writing. Currently, Joshine's main focus is Beauty In My Shame, the social support group that she formed after finding out about her HIV Status.