Oksana standing in playground

Oksana standing outside her home

Last month in Kazakhstan I met Oksana, a truly inspiring woman. This is her story:

At my eighteen birthday party I witnessed my fiancé being stabbed to death by a group of guys over an argument about his scooter.

I was deeply traumatised and depressed for months. Eventually my neighbour offered me heroin – he said I could take it and just forget about my problems for one day. But it didn’t work like that and I became addicted.

A few years later, I met a guy at a party and we started dating. He had money and I would steal from him to buy drugs. When he found out, he tried to get me help. Sometime later, he proposed, and we got married. But I was still addicted to drugs.

Falling for my dealer

In 2006, when I was 30, I fell in love with my drug dealer. I left my husband, as I was desperately in love with this man. Then, eight months later, I was arrested for possession of drugs. While I was being held in prison waiting for trial, I found out that I was HIV positive.

After six months, my husband found out I was in prison. He came to see me and I told him about the HIV. He said he forgave me and arranged to get me out of prison. Even though he doesn’t have HIV, he took me back. He encouraged me to go to the AIDS centre and also helped me get support to quit drugs. We’ve been married now for 13 years and I’ve been clean now for two and a half years.

I knew nothing about HIV when I was diagnosed. I cried all the time and felt sorry for myself. I was sure I would die soon. It took me two years to accept it. A few years ago I met Rosa, who co-ordinates the Kazakh Red Crescent’s TB and HIV programme in Almaty. She has been living with HIV for 15 years. I’d really been thinking my days were numbered, but she assured me I could live with this disease.

Red Crescent support

I attended all the Red Crescent campaigns and seminars and started to feel more confident. I did so much training that I became a trainer myself and about a year ago I was offered a job as a social worker on the TB and HIV programme.

Because I’m HIV positive, people can talk to me and there’s more trust. The people I meet have many problems on top of their health issues. Maybe they are a drug user or an ex-prisoner and they can’t find a job because they lack official documents, or maybe they are a single mother struggling to feed their children and at their wits’ end. I explain about the emotional and practical support we can offer – especially as we have a lawyer and psychologist on our team.

I also invite people to join our mutual support groups, where people living with HIV and TB can meet regularly. These groups show people that they are not alone and there are ways to cope and carry on living a normal life.

Fulfilling my dream

This is the first job I’ve ever had, before I was supported by my family and then my husband. Now I earn money and I’ve even taken a holiday to Turkey, which was my life’s dream.

I love working, especially when people come and thank me and tell me they have been inspired. It feels wonderful.

The Kazakh Red Crescent programme is supported by the British Red Cross. Find out more on our website.