International Women’s Day Event to Celebrate Ugandan Hero

Agnes Nyamayarwo and Bono address an audience about HIV/AIDS prevention. Photo: Courtesy Debbie Kreuser

In an early celebration of International Women’s Day, Blue Planet Green Living is partnering with A GEM of An Idea to host a live and interactive, online forum featuring the subject of this post, Agnes Nyamayarwo, founder of Mulago Positive Women’s Network.

We’re focusing on Agnes — both here and in the online forum — to celebrate her singular accomplishments as a woman of initiative, courage, and strength.

We invite you to join us February 26, 2011 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EST (PLEASE NOTE THE CORRECTED TIME: 9:00 a.m. EST) to speak with Agnes Nyamayarwo live from Uganda via the Internet. More information follows at the end of the post. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Agnes Nyamayarwo, founder of the Mulago Positive Women’s Network (MPWN), empowers Ugandan women inflicted with HIV/AIDS to create better lives for themselves and their families. Her efforts benefit approximately 70 women, ranging in age from 16 to 50. All of the women have tested positive for the virus. They meet weekly and take care of each other when they fall ill.

An AIDS widow herself, Agnes also lives with the virus. She is a nurse, activist, and counselor with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) Uganda, one of the first African AIDS organizations. Agnes founded the MPWN in 2004 as a subset of TASO, and the members of MPWN receive their anti-retroviral drugs from TASO today.

Because of Agnes’s groundbreaking work, Bono, philanthropist and lead singer from the band U2, chose her as the first African spokesperson for DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) in 2002. DATA became known as the ONE campaign in 2004.

Support and Empowerment for Women

Harriet, a member of MPWN, demonstrates how she makes a basket. Photo: Courtesy Debbie Kreuser

“MPWN functions as a support network, first and foremost,” says Debbie Kreuser, an African activist and close friend of Agnes Nyamayarwo. Debbie volunteers for MPWN from her home in Austin, Texas, selling goods made by the women and raising awareness for the program. She is the U.S. spokesperson for Agnes and the MPWN due to the unreliability of communication between the two countries.

The MPWN program is unique, Debbie explains, because it does more than provide the women with medication. MPWN members receive both the drugs necessary for their survival and a means by which to earn money. They use much of their income to protect against other life-threatening issues such as hunger.

“These are women who are living on the edge,” says Debbie. “They would have fallen off the cliff economically without the MPWN.”

The women are trained in a craft and use their skills  to earn an income for themselves and their families. Some of the handmade items they sell include paper-bead jewelry, baskets, dolls, jewelry boxes, and sun hats. MPWN members’ crafts are available for purchase online at

Shoppers check out the merchandies at the MPWN store in Uganda. Photo: Courtesy Debbie Kreuser

“Another important aspect of the group is economic empowerment,” Debbie adds. “The members of MPWN are trained to be small businesswomen. Some of them also raise a few pigs or chickens,” says Debbie. “It won’t make them rich, but it gives them something to live on.”

Today, a majority of the women in Mulago Positive Women’s Network are doing quite well because they have marketable skills, Debbie explains. Some of the younger girls have even finished high school, which is a difficult task for most Ugandan women.

Many women in the MPWN are the sole providers for themselves and their children, making their marketable skills as critical as life and death for those they support financially. Most members are single women, or women whose husbands or boyfriends have passed away, often from HIV/AIDS.

Debbie explains that a majority of Ugandan women who are infected with HIV/AIDS catch it through heterosexual sex. There is a stigma in Uganda against men getting tested for the virus, exacerbating the problem by preventing a woman from knowing if her partner is infected. Currently, 10 to 15 percent of the country’s population is afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

“The MPWN gives infected women a support network. It gives them a choice of what kinds of relationships they want to be in,” Debbie says.

As Close as Sisters

Agnes and Debbie have become close friends through their work with MPWN. Photo: Courtesy Debbie Kreuser

Asked about her own involvement in MPWN, Debbie explains that her interest in Africa began when she was a teenager; now she’s 51.

When Debbie saw that Bono was serious about his efforts on behalf of Africa a decade ago, she decided to join up with DATA. That’s where she first met Agnes, on “The Heart of America” speaking tour with Bono in December 2002.

“I met Agnes on her first day in the United States, in Lincoln, Nebraska,” Debbie remembers. They met again in March 2007 at a ONE regional training seminar in Houston, Texas, and have “been like sisters ever since.”

Agnes asked Debbie to help with the website for the MPWN, which she does as a volunteer. All profits from items sold on the website are returned to the women who made them.

Join the Conversation February 26

In honor of silent women heroes such as Agnes and Debbie, Blue Planet Green Living invites our readers to join the GEM-MPWN online forum and conversation: Saturday, February 26, 2011 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EST. (An interview with youth leaders around the world will follow from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. EST.)

These are some of the dolls made by the women of MPWN. Photo: Courtesy Debbie Kreuser

MPWN supporters around the world will have the opportunity to interact with Agnes and her fellow MPWN members through a secure multimedia platform hosted by Heart in Action Enterprises. The interactive session will provide a rare look at how Agnes and other African women with HIV/AIDS are empowering themselves for the future.

Agnes and her friends will also demonstrate how they make some of their highly acclaimed African craft items, including their paper-bead jewelry. They will also answer questions regarding their daily lives in Uganda.

Click here to join the International Women’s Day celebration of “The Power of Women” and speak with Agnes Nyamayarwo live from Uganda. [Important note: Once you get to A Gem of an Idea, click on “Enter Multicast” at the top of the page.] Although anyone may view the broadcast and participate in the chat via the Internet, you’ll need a headset to ask questions aloud and a web camera if you’d like Agnes and her friends to see you. If you decide to participate by video and/or voice, please log in a few minutes before the event starts to receive instructions.

For More Information

Heart in Action Enterprises and several global partners are addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security innovation for the digital divide. For more information about A GEM of an Idea or Heart in Action, please contact Ashie Hirji. To find out more about the MPWN, contact Debbie Kreuser.

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)