'I cried most days' - how inspiring HIV campaigner labelled as 'dirty' fought back
PUBLISHED: 19:10 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:33 21 February 2019
"You're dirty," were words Suffolk resident Becky Kroger often heard throughout her childhood.
Born in South Africa with HIV, which damages the immune system and makes it difficult for the body to fight infections, she knew no other life than one with daily rounds of medication.
Growing up in a children’s home, she did not even understand the seriousness of her own condition until, aged six, she started asking questions of the adults looking after her.
She gradually came to terms with life being HIV Positive, describing the “slow” realisation of how the condition would affect her life.
“The only way I understood it, I was not going to live very long because the friends of my age at the time were frequently ill and needed hospital care or they had passed away,” she said.
“I expected it to happen to me next.”
Yet she also had to come to terms with regular verbal abuse during her childhood from fellow schoolchildren, even if they later apologised for their behaviour.
“I thought from a young age that I was different, hearing words like: ‘You’re dirty,’” she said.
“I just makes you feel awful. It ended my confidence in myself. I cried most days.”
But Becky, now aged 24, has not let those cruel words defeat her and instead took the outlook of “living every day as my best”.
As a child she was one of the first to take life-saving antiretroviral (ART) medication, saying: “It seemed like I had been given a second chance to live.
“There were fewer visits to the hospital for emergency and infection treatment. My school attendance rose and I had more energy to play and enjoy childhood.”
Moving to the United Kingdom when she was aged 14 and being adopted by the Kroger family, whose name she has taken, she began to speak about her experiences in a bid to give hope and comfort to others.
As a HIV advocate, she spoke to audiences across the UK about her personal journey of living with HIV and dealing with the stigma of the illness.
She has also been a leader of the Youth Stop AIDS campaign It Ain’t Over, where she works with the British government and other young campaigners in the country towards the target of ending AIDS by 2030.
And now Becky, who is from Ipswich, has been shortlisted for a coveted humanitarian award for her tireless campaign work.
She is one of seven finalists of the Volunteer Award at this year’s Bond International Development Awards, designed to celebrate work in the development sector that often goes unrecognised.
She will find out if she has won at a ceremony in London on Monday, March 18.
Becky said she was “proud” to be shortlisted adding: “I am incredibly honoured to be nominated for the volunteer award.
“Over the years I have passionately worked to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending AIDS by 2030.”
She added that she had “worked to tackle HIV stigma” and “raised awareness through sharing my story”.
She added that being HIV Positive “has basically made me appreciate life a lot more”.
She also said it was “very empowering” to spread her message to other people and in particular decision makers in the government.
Asked what her advice would be to others facing similar discrimination in other walks of life, Becky said: “I’d say to find someone you trust who you can speak to about it and try and get some support.
“In this country we’re actually quite fortunate that there are quite a few HIV organisations or charities about that are willing to support young people and create a space for them to meet each other, make friends and build a support network.
“Anyone in this country who is struggling, try and reach out to support groups. There’s someone there for everyone.”
James Cole, from the agency Restless Development, said: “Becky would be a very deserving winner of the Volunteer Award due to her inspirational volunteering on the global HIV response.
“Becky has inspired decision makers, fought against HIV stigma, influenced policy change and represented other young people living with HIV.”
Mike Wright, director of communications at Bond, added: “Each year we are delighted and humbled by the nominations we receive in this category.
“It is a great reflection of the hard work that goes on, often behind the scenes, by so many dedicated volunteers.
“It is a genuine pleasure to be honouring such a diverse range of humanitarians and shining a light on these inspirational people and the incredible work that they are doing.”