If I had got married, I’d be dead today.
Author: Irene Munz
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 10/19/2004
If I had got married, I’d
be dead today.
Better late – then never. A couple days after our official start at UPEACE (University for Peace), we noticed another colorful shirt and a new face of a tall strong man. As for many other African students the trip to UPEACE, was anything but easy. Sam’s journey included five stopovers, two countries in Africa, two in Europe and one in Venezuela before finally arriving in Costa Rica. Yes, many of us take the one-day trip and many other things for granted.
Nevertheless, Sam luckily made it.
After a couple of days I was wondering, what is Sam doing, every time I see him outside of class, he is seriously spending hours in front of a computer in the library? Where is he from, what are his email friends? Did he leave a whole family back home, as many of us did? What is he doing?
There are many reasons why I came here, says Sam. And already today, at UPEACE, I am working to what I will be doing in the future. Many reasons made me an activist and fighter for peace and human rights. There are some key experiences in my live, that have shaped me, for who I am today, and that made me come here to UPEACE.
When I was a boy, I saw for the first time a dead human body. This person didn’t die for a natural reason. He was murdered by a national security officer and was lying in a trunk of the car, parked next to my sister’s in front of a super market. The murderer, a working colleague of the driver, must have forgotten to take the dead body out of the car before handing the vehicle over to his colleague. What happened in only a couple of minutes was scary to me, and I will never forget. Of course many people got around the car, when the driver came back. But he just jumped in his car and drove of with the dead body. That is how “cheap human beings” were in my country at that time of dictatorship.
You wonder, with who I am in contact? I will tell you. Because of the instable political situation in my country, I had to leave two times for exile. During my second exile in Zambia, I was old enough to visit the University.
Many of my student friends, who I am still in contact with, were wounded – some with no arms or legs. At that time, Zambia was the center for African liberation movements. Among my classmates I found friends who were from South Africa fighting against Apartheid, Namibia, and Angola. All of them in exile and still active as “gorillas” (the bush war fighters) in there own countries. This period of my life, as unfortunate it was to be sent into exile, became a fortunate one for me. I found friends, many of them now in high positions in their own countries, from whom I could learn and exchange. We are still friends and we all fight for a peace.
And again, today, at UPEACE, I see the potential to learn from listening to my student colleagues. One should always learn to work for human rights and peace.
Back from my exile in 1988 to Uganda, my home country, I joined the government as public relation officer, focusing on media work (the bridge between public and government) for the African liberation movements, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), which to my joy accomplished its mission by leading South Africa to majority rule in 1994.
Since the democratization in Uganda (beginning in 1986) many things have developed very well. Since 1995 we are proudly holding directly elected representatives of youth in our parliament (the only one worldwide), as well 30% of all elective positions of leadership, from the grassroots to parliament, are reserved for women. Equally the disabled are represented at all levels. Encouraged through this process, in which my activist friends and myself were involved in, we were looking forward seeing our country developing and moving to a strong, real democratic, competitive nation.
But then, suddenly, everything changed. A conflict appeared, more violent than other conflicts, than all weapons in the past invading my country. It is now the social front that was able to kill my friends, my family, the activists who were surviving the struggle and war for liberalization. HIV/Aids became the biggest enemy in our country. 30% of the population was infected in the year of 1992. The infection rate has been brought down to 5,6% in 2004 and Uganda became now a world leader in the control of the pandemic and this is thanks to great efforts by NGO’s and the government. Still, my country is dying if we are not working to survive. Some of leftover friends and me founded an NGO, who is supporting orphans of Aids-victims; some of them are my relatives – I lost three of my sisters because of Aids. We are fighting for these orphans, since they are our future, and we are making strong efforts for HIV-prevention. Since 2002, I invite every year volunteers from the United States for two months. These young people, help us with the prevention work, and bring donations such as condoms and other equipment from their home country, while they learn from our program and us. In Uganda, there are 3500 NGO’s; almost all of them have now a HIV-program and the government is supporting the efforts. Now, we have some money to reduce HIV/Aids. We hope to win this fight but it is a hard one. My NGO is, what keeps me busy and hocked to the computer in the library, every spear minute I have.
If I would have been married at the time, when HIV started exploding in Uganda, I would have most probably followed my friends and I would be dead by today. But I am alive, and I work for the survival of my people, of the next generation in Uganda.
Bio: Irene Munz is a postgraduate student at the University for Peace. She is from Switzerland.