A Life Less Ordinary
By Rajat Madhok and Urvashi J Kumar
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 26 September 2012 - 53 year old Princy Mangalika has a way of looking straight at those she addresses. A demeanor that speaks volumes of her deep-rooted strength and confidence. It belies the fact that just over a decade ago she was struggling to piece together her life after her husband, unable to handle the fear of stigma on learning he was HIV positive, committed suicide. The mother of two gets visibly emotional when she recalls the night when she ran out of her burning house, clutching her daughters hard, struggling to keep them safe after her neighbours set her house afire soon after her husband’s death. He was shunned even in death and was denied a proper burial.
Shamed and ostracized, Princy, who had contracted HIV from her husband, was denied even her dignity and her world as she knew it shattered in front of her eyes. With two little girls to support, Princy turned to her mother for help. She was fortunate for the support she received from her. Today, Princy is a figure of hope for many. Running a grassroots NGO called Positive Women’s Network she and her team members, all HIV positive, work tirelessly to fight the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS and help those living with HIV get the support and care they need.
“Had my children been HIV positive I would have taken them and jumped into the river. But they tested negative and that gave me hope. My husband was shamed even after his death. No one should ever have to live or die like that. I drew strength from that. That is when I decided to fight for those living with HIV,” she says. Princy's Positive Women's Network now employs others affected by HIV. It also supports those who want to get tested confidentially and provides shelter to women who have been thrown out of their homes and communities for being HIV positive.
Acknowledged internationally for the impact of her work, Princy and the Positive Women’s Network, won the Red Ribbon Award at the World AIDS Conference earlier this year. Her organization receives support from Sri Lanka’s Family Planning Association and UNAIDS. Her organization also actively supports the Think Wise Campaign, a joint initiative of UNAIDS, UNICEF and the International Cricket Council (ICC) which aims to reduce stigma and discrimination by increasing awareness around HIV.
“Stigma is still one of the biggest barriers to people accessing life saving services here in Sri Lanka. We have to talk more openly about HIV and dispel the myths. This also means talking more directly about sex and sexuality,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, who is also leading Think Wise, the joint ICC, UNAIDS and UNICEF campaign against HIV/AIDS, in Sri Lanka.