TASO Drama Group entertains Ugandan President Museveni

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Sarah Kayiwaa shook her hips while President Museveni smiled at her last week at a dance performance following an address at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala where he announced a fast truck initiative to end HIV in Uganda by 2030.

Sarah could never have imagined such a thing on that day in 2000 when she was told she had HIV in her body.

Sarah and HIV stigma

Sarah focuses on her dancing and enjoys dance rehearsal. “I am happy when I am dancing.” Sarah said, “It is good for health and for stress.” (Yulin Yu | The Media School)

Organization (TASO). “People said I am a moving dead body.”

“No one loved me,” Sarah said, describing her experience before joining the drama group at The AIDS Support

After her husband died of Aids (cause by HIV, a disease which destroys body’s cellular immunity and lead of infection) in 2005, Sarah felt sick. “I didn’t know how to live my life without my husband,” she said, “I was afraid I was going to die.”

One in five Ugandans believes that HIV-positive people should be ashamed of themselves, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey from 2011.

Sarah said she her late husband’s siblings and their neighbors had abandoned her.

“They threw away food they didn’t want rather than giving it to me,” Sarah said.

But Sarah’s life changed significantly in 2005 when her cousin took her to TASO.

“The doctor at TASO told me that I could have a happy life with HIV and they gave me care,” Sarah said.  She also found out TASO had a drama group. She applied to join the support group and was accepted. She has been grateful ever since.

“People care about me here,” Sarah said

The TASO Drama Group 

The TASO Drama Group was founded in 1991 and like TASO itself, the performers are all people living positively with HIV. Also like TASO generally, the group focuses on community HIV prevention and encourages people to seek treatment.

Since then, the TASO Drama Group has performed for thousands in communities that include fisherfolk, sex workers, truck drivers and others.

The drumers start every rehearsal by warming up in the headquarter’s activity room. (Yulin Yu | The Media School)

“Entertainment brings people in,” said Charles Sseruyange, the HIV negative instructor of the drama group. “When they perform, they are happy and people can feel them,” he said.

Sserugyange has instructed the drama group since 2010. He brings different styles of art to the group, including traditional drumming, choral arrangements and African dance.

Sseruyange leads the weekly rehearsal every Monday in a TASO activity room. The June 6 session started with a brainstorming session.

Every member sat in a circle and presented their thoughts. The discussion was lively. Members of the drama group described what they wanted to present for the president at the next day’s performance. All were aware of the presidential fast track initiative aimed at ending AIDS in Uganda.

Then Sarah began dancing, vibrating her bottom as the goat hair decoration was swinging on her body. She lifted her chest, spread out her arms and smiled broadly.

“I am very happy” Sarah said.

Finding love in Drama group

The group has proven to be more than just support for Sarah. She also found her new beloved, Kayiwa Mahmoud, an HIV-positive man who joined the group two years after Sarah. They provide each other with a special understanding and support.

Sarah Kayiwaais HIV-positive. She joined the drama group in 2005. “Dancing helps me exercise and overcome stress,” Kayiwaa Said. (Yulin Yu | The Media School)

Kayiwa Mahmoud is HIV-positive. He joined the drama group in 2014. “The message you give to music or the message you give to drama. That’s how we flight (HIV) sigma.” (Yulin Yu | The Media School)

Mahmoud and Sarah started their relationship as friends. They always sat together at lunch with the group after Monday rehearsals.

During hundreds of rehearsals and performances, Sarah was shaking her hips with the rhythm created by Mood on his drums.

After pursuing in-depth friendship for six months, Sarah and Mood took a boda boda (a motorcycle taxi) to Lutembe Beach in July 2007. They talked and walked in the beach. Mood held Sarah’s hand and asked for a serious relationship. Sarah said she was very happy and they kissed

Sarah has been dating Mahmoud for a decade now without an official marriage. They live together with their own HIV-negative children.

“We are so happy,” Sarah said, “I love my handsome husband.”

Performing for the President and new hope for HIV positive people

On Tuesday, Sarah and the other drama group members left the TASO office at 7 a.m. for the trip across town to the Imperial Royal Hotel where they would perform for President Museveni.

As they walked out together after the performance, neither Sarah nor Mahmoud could have ever imagined that they would be in love and together performing for a president who was so adamant about ending the HIV epidemic in Uganda.

With the ambitious goal from President Museveni to promote a five-point plan to end HIV/AIDS in Uganda by 2030, the TASO Drama Group is working on repackaging their message so that it more tightly aligns with the president’s encouraging plan.