From sexual abuse survivor to HIV/AIDS mentor in Jamaica

Monique has come a long way from being a teenage survivor of sexual abuse to helping young women live positively with HIV.

by Daniele Volpe and Olga Chambers
UNICEF/UN0220591/Volpe
UNICEF/UN0220591/Volpe

19 July 2018

Monique McDonald has come a long way from being a teenage survivor of sexual abuse. She was raped repeatedly by her uncle between the age of 12 to 15 years. But today she is a vocal ‘Mentor Mom’ working for the Jamaican NGO EVE for Life that supports and empowers survivors of sexual violence, providing mentoring programmes for young women, some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS. UNICEF supports EVE programmes in seven parishes with the highest prevalence of HIV on the island.

 

UNICEF/UN0220612/Volpe
UNICEF/UN0220612/Volpe
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UNICEF/UN0220596/Volpe

Monique (left) who started out as a participant in EVE’s programme, now works full time for the national NGO, providing peer-to-peer interventions and mentorship to HIV-positive young women. 

EVE provides mentorship for newly diagnosed women and young girls through its Mentor Mom and Life Coach support services. “I thought that it [HIV-positive diagnosis] was the end of the world. I felt like I had no reason to live. I was depressed and I wanted to commit suicide. All those negatives ideas came rushing,” said Sheila* (right), one of EVE’s 90 programme participants.
 

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UNICEF/UN0220608/Volpe
UNICEF/UN0220597/Volpe
UNICEF/UN0220597/Volpe

Monique, praying at home, has become one of the most vocal advocates for young women in Jamaica who are affected by sexual violence and HIV/AIDS. 

Counselling is an important part of EVE’s programmes. “At the time, I didn’t get any counselling or an appointment to go to the clinic. I just went home. It was very hard,” Alicia* said about learning that she was HIV-positive. “My mother cried. She wasn’t a support back then, and she still isn’t now. We quarrel a lot. When we argue, she tells me to remember that I will die soon, that I am walking dead.” 
 

UNICEF/UN0220603/Volpe
UNICEF/UN0220603/Volpe
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UNICEF/UN0220595/Volpe

Monique (in orange shirt) counsels Shelly*, who is training to become a Mentor Mom. 

Mentor Moms also help young women in the programme better cope with their HIV-positive status. “I used to feel down but I don’t let it [HIV] bother me anymore, because now I have hope to motivate me,” said Marsha* (right).
 

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UNICEF/UN0220586/Volpe
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UNICEF/UN0220593/Volpe

EVE also supports the individual needs of the participating women. Monique (centre) and an EVE liaison officer (in yellow) buy essential items for a young woman. 

Community awareness to end stigma and discrimination towards people affected by HIV is also important. Jennifer* (right) was shunned by her sister at first. “She really has turned around,” Jennifer said.
 

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UNICEF/UN0220576/Volpe
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UNICEF/UN0220594/Volpe

Monique (left) walks through an area in her community. She kept a series of diaries about her sexual abuse and later shared her ordeal in order to empower other girls and raise public awareness. 

“I met other young persons who are HIV-positive and I get to talk about it with people who won’t judge me,” EVE programme participant Lisa* (right), 18, said. “It’s been a good journey.”  
 

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UNICEF/UN0220579/Volpe
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UNICEF/UN0220592/Volpe

Monique enjoys the beach by her home. She realized one of her biggest dreams in 2017, when her house was built with help from a fund set up to assist her and other survivors. 

For all of the survivors, including Gloria* (right) in an EVE support group, the knowledge, skills and support they receive as part of the programme help them look to the future. 


* Names changed