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In a small northwestern town in the Central African Republic, one man who has been HIV positive for nearly 20 years is leading an individual crusade to help others with the same disease. Jeremie Nadoum convinces them to leave their shame behind and grow vegetables together so they can survive. In the latest installment of VOA's Making a Difference, Nico Colombant reports, the only thing Nadoum complains about is not getting enough outside help.
Jeremie Nadoum heads out early in the morning to work in fields, several kilometers away, which he set up for himself and others infected with HIV.
There are about 300 people in his association. They work hard clearing out brush. Nadoum leads by example.
They grow their own food: spinach, cucumbers, carrots, onions and other vegetables, as well as fruit.
Nadoum says if he does not come to the fields, the other members of his group will find excuses not to work. They will say they are tired, or that the antiretroviral drugs they are taking make them sick.
"If you don't encourage them, this does not work well," Nadoum said. "If I encourage them, they feel happy, less isolated. And then they feel like working and living again."
The food they grow is their livelihood. Facing high prices and difficulty in getting jobs because of their HIV status, they cannot afford much else. This will be Nadoum's only meal of the day.
Nadoum's list of member, he explains, includes many who have died. They are marked off in his book with a red cross.
In the afternoons, Nadoum visits members of his group who seem close to death.
One HIV positive man appears to have a bad case of tuberculosis as well. He can barely eat the spinach that comes from Nadoum's field and cannot walk anymore.
Nadoum says his own HIV infection came from unprotected sex as a young man, when he played soccer in tournaments in the capital Bengui. "I don't have any money for what I do. But I know God is helping me," he said. "Since I started helping, I feel well. I don't have money but I speak well."
The Global Fund helps in Bossangoa with HIV testing and distributing antiretroviral drugs. Nadoum says the Global Fund should hire him - rather than outsiders who know very little of the reality here, and who rarely visit such out of the way places, where the needs are so great.