Unbroken Spirit: The Unimaginable Journey of a Black Woman's Triumph Over Genocide, Violence, and HIV

Unbroken Spirit: The Unimaginable Journey of a Black Woman's Triumph Over Genocide, Violence, and HIV

Chantal Mukandoli
Peer Ambassador for HIV self-testing, WHIWH; Co-Chair of ICW in North America
Interested in contributing to the I-AM blog? Your story, ideas and insight matter. Whether you’re from a Community Based Organization, independent, or otherwise, we’d love to hear from you!
Let's Connect
arrow pointing right
Share this post

In 1994, the genocide in Rwanda changed everything for me. I lost so many loved ones, including my husband who was killed by soldiers. They not only took his life, but they also stole my dignity. They raped me. And during the attack, I contracted HIV.

My life from then on was a constant struggle against stigma, poverty, and vulnerability. I had to fight for my survival. Not just for myself, but for my innocent children too.

My last child was born with HIV. This made my mission even stronger.

Many women who were raped and affected by HIV––and got pregnant––would abandon their children in the streets. But as a mother who believes in God, I could never abandon my children. So, I took care of them.

When I became sick, I had to ask for support. I was admitted to the hospital for opportunistic infection, and the doctor recommended an HIV test. I tested positive. Along with my newborn. It was devastating news. But I had to accept it.

In 2006, I moved to Canada and started working with women who were living with HIV. I fought against stigma and discrimination.

I started seeking support and assistance, and my first stop was the church. The pastor told me to find someone who had the same situation, and we could help each other as a group. I started searching for people. I was not easy. But as I began sharing my story, twenty women came to me, crying and saying that I inspired and helped them become strong.

disturbing images in the wake of the Rwanda genocide

Together, we prayed for support, and we received help from donors who provided food, shelter, and clothes for our children. I talked about my story in all the churches around Rwanda. Every time I did, an association was born.

I knew that I had to educate people about HIV and AIDS, and so I toured around all the provinces to educate people to take care of themselves. I encouraged them to get tested, and I shared my experiences of living with HIV.

The staff created ways for people to get confidential treatment. And we reached out to organizations to help women connect with, and to participate in international conferences that speak up for women.

In 2006, I moved to Canada and started working with women who were living with HIV. I fought against stigma and discrimination. I taught them about their rights and how to be treated properly. I also educated them about how to prevent other diseases, bacteria-born, and others. I kept learning and participating in workshops to improve my leadership skills.

CHANTAL M... mentor, survivor and superhero!
My power came from accepting everything. And fighting to survive again.

Today, I am a peer ambassador and leader in my community. I started from nowhere. But now, because of my past life, and experiences, I am a strong, creative, and intelligent woman. I have a duty to open the way and help people move on––to encourage them to get tested for HIV.

HIV cannot stop me from progressing. And it shouldn't stop anyone else.

The past is responsible for my present life. But to progress, it's not only about what we do today. We need to be patient––to have a vision, and a mission to always help others around us.

HIV may still be here, but it cannot stop us from doing anything. It may be stubbornly sticking around, but it will never stop us from progressing.

the walkway through the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Latest posts

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

True power is knowing yourself inside and out. Get Tested!

Everyone should talk openly, plus have access to the latest information, when it comes to sexual health. It's not just a matter of practicality. It’s a matter of life and death.

How to navigate immigration and HIV

If you're living with HIV and looking to immigrate to Canada, there are somethings you need to know to navigate the system.

Disrupting Taboos: A Young Black Muslim’s Crusade Against HIV Stigma

As a Black Muslim woman, I understand the unique challenges that we face when it comes to HIV testing. Self-testing is an especially critical tool, and relatively new way in Canada to help people take control of their own health and wellbeing.
5 min

An Urgent Appeal From the Frontlines

The impact of shame and stigma surrounding HIV and sexual health is damaging. Here's why.