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A Confidence Shared, Two Lives Changed

Laura Sessions Stepp

On Thursday, a group of girls came up to the window of our van and started knocking. One girl whom I didn't recognize held up a folded piece of paper and signaled me to come get it. She handed it over and walked away without saying anything.

I started reading it when we got back to the lodge and at first I didn't think it was anything more than a note saying hello. Then I realized it was written by a girl I didn't know who said she had been raped less than a year ago and later found out she was HIV positive.

She was an orphan, she said, who had isolated herself and needed someone to talk to. She told me that other than her counselor at Ubuntu Education Fund, I was the only person she had told. What struck me most was that she was angry with herself. She said that she had pleaded for the man to stop when she should have fought harder.

The letter was written incredibly well, and although we had talked on this trip about the possibility of having someone confess to being HIV positive, I realized how mentally unprepared I was to have it actually happen. Today, while I was peeling an orange, she came up to me and introduced herself. She asked to speak with me after the graduation party for our Grassroot Soccer/Ubuntu Camp. At 2:30 p.m. she approached me again and asked to talk. We walked over to the side of a school building and sat down.

The night before, when I was sitting on the stairs trying to absorb what I had just read, I was thinking about how I should react. Although in shock, I wasn't crying, or surprised. I was just numb. As I sat there shoveling in dry corn flakes, Jessi, our assistant coach, walked past and I realized that I needed to tell someone about this.

As I listened to my voice telling the story to Jessi, it hit me I was panicking. What was I supposed to do when she came to talk to me? What would I say? What worried me most was the thought of crying in front of her. Breaking down and becoming emotional was probably the last thing she wanted.

So back to the school: I expected the girl to start telling her story but realized she had done so in her letter and was waiting for a response. Without thinking, I started to talk. I told her she was brave, incredible and strong. She wasn't going to let this one bad thing ruin her entire life. She was going to come out even stronger than she was.

Her story was inspirational, I continued. I wanted her to know that as much as she wanted me to support her, she had just changed my life as well.

It was a kind of a curse to have this story unfold in front of me, for I realized I would never see certain things the same way again. In a matter of minutes, my outlook on the trip had completely changed. I have now had a personal experience with HIV/AIDS.

By Laura Sessions Stepp
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