I grew up in the inner city with a family affected by drugs, crime and heartbreak; our story was not unlike many around us. My dad had grown up in the inner city as had my mum and their future was almost pre-planned: both of them came from quite poor families, neither of them had received any education, and both were illiterate.
At the age of eight, I was told that my dad was HIV positive and had been infected with a disease called Hepatitis C which affected his liver and that that was why sometimes he was yellow. I was given this information as the eldest of three children and soon I started to read all of the literature and hospital correspondence for my parents. Two years on, my mum was diagnosed with HIV and Hepatitis C; it was around this time that ACET became involved in our family.
We had a difficult family situation and ACET quickly became not only involved in our family but part of our family — providing lifts to hospitals, bringing myself and my two sisters out to get away and have breaks, and really just loving on us as a family.
My dad died the summer I was 12 years of age and my sisters were 10 and 8. Quite soon afterwards my mum became ill and my sisters and I were swapped from house to house of different family members; eventually we went into care for some time. ACET were our ray of hope in the midst of this turmoil, giving us lifts each day from school to the home we were in and to visit our mum in the hospital. The staff and the volunteers that became involved in our lives really helped us to process the death of our dad and to know that we were loved and cared for. The club that ACET had named Y.A.S (You Are Special) encouraged this. I look back on that time of my life and I personally see how vital ACET was and the impact that the organisation had on myself and the rest of my family.
Eighteen months after the death of my dad, my younger sister suddenly died. ACET was such a central part to our family that members of the organisation were involved in the funeral arrangements, just as family ought to be.
I became increasingly depressed and stopped attending school; ACET was so positive throughout this time and the staff would constantly tell me that there was a reason to live and love and that God had a plan for my life, regardless of the circumstance that I found myself in. After a year of what I now call a ‘black out year’, I began to hope for the future.
I made a decision to give my life to God and to trust in his ways. I went back to school for my Leaving Certificate. I had missed all but a few weeks of 5th year in secondary school and found myself a year behind in course work at the start of my final year in school. ACET arranged for me to have private tuition in the evenings after school and even when my teachers in school and family told me that I would fail, ACET and my tutors told me to keep going and try my hardest, and that’s what I did, applying for numerous scholarships, filling out pages and pages of forms, again with the help of some ACET volunteers. I passed and got offered numerous scholarships and undertook a degree in law.
That was almost seven years ago and since then a lot has happened. I have graduated from law school, traveled to over 40 countries, and I am currently planning on studying for my Masters in Law in Human Rights to speak out for people who feel that they can’t speak for themselves. My mum has since died and my sister and I, although both still in our early twenties having experienced such loss, are hopeful. I am adamant that without the intervention of ACET in our lives that I would have not survived my teenage years. Right up until the death of my mum a year ago, ACET was there providing lifts, an ever-open ear to talk to, un-judging and loving in their response. Life can be gut wrenching this is true; life can be unfair, this is also true, but life can also be beautifully exhilarating, full of challenges and ever-changing. I thank ACET for standing by my family, for loving us and for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.