A Kenyan church leader, who used to preach that HIV was punishment from God, has been nominated for an international award celebrating her work with people living with HIV.
Patricia Sawo, from Kitale in Kenya, has been shortlisted as a CNN Hero 2011, an award which champions ‘everyday people who are changing the world’.
Ms Sawo has been recognised for her work raising awareness of HIV, helping and counselling people living with HIV and also for mobilising the church to prevent stigmatisation of those with the condition.
The campaigner, who is living with HIV herself, is supported by UK-based Christian aid agency Tearfund’s 'Inspired Individuals' initiative, which provides practical and spiritual backing to people having a transformative impact in poor communities.
Patricia Sawo had always told others that God could heal people if they'd fast and pray as penance for their sins. But when she followed her own advice, she still tested positive - and after four years continuing to search for answers, she came to the conclusion that her own attitude and that of her church had been wrong.
When her HIV status first became public, Ms Sawo became a victim of the prejudices that she had helped spread throughout her community, reports CNN.
Within a short time, she and her husband had lost their jobs, she had lost her leadership role in her church, and their landlord had kicked them both out of their home.
Patricia Sawo is now determined to work, as a Christian, against the prejudices she had once not understood, and against mistaken religious fear and judgmentalism over HIV-AIDS.
Speaking to CNN, Patricia Sawo declared: “HIV, it's made me a better person. God has his own ways of healing. ... So, for me, I'm healed."
'Inspired Individuals' provides a bespoke mentoring, coaching, training, fellowship and financial support package. www.inspiredindividuals.org
Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency building a global network of churches to help eradicate poverty. www.tearfund.org