At home in Victoria, June Wilson is a respected doctor’s widow, an active member of her church, and a gracious hostess. In Tanzania, she is “Mama June”, respected teacher, caregiver, and friend. She also shares another common ground with many in Africa; she is HIV Positive.
In 1991, at the age of 64, prompted by a church pamphlet talking about missionaries, June headed off to Africa. She worked as a volunteer for an Anglican mission inKasulu, Tanzania for two years, seven months. She returned in 1995, for a second stay that lasted until the end of 1996. She loved her work, and only returned home when she became seriously ill.
When June came come, she was so sick, she almost died. The doctors ran every test, looking for every disease except AIDS, despite the conditions she had been exposed to while in Africa. She didn’t fit the stereotype. That didn’t stop the HIV virus from infecting her, it only delayed the diagnosis.
If you ask June how she became infected, she shrugs her shoulders. It could have been in either stay in Africa. She says she received numerous needles in Africa for malaria treatment, as well as being in very close contact with many people carrying the AIDS virus. “It doesn’t really matte how I got it, or from who. All I know is that I didn’t get it from unsafe sex. I’ll still have it. I can’t waste energy worrying about how, or being angry about it. It is better for me to save my energy for staying healthy.”
In 2002, Mama June returned to Kasulu, Africa in an attempt to break through the prejudice and denial that continues to surround the AIDS epidemic. As a seventy- eight year old, middle class widow, she is not the typical face put to AIDS patients. Maybe this is one of the reasons why people listen when she speaks. In Africa, she offers education that this is a virus that is not picky about its victims. She encourages women to demand the use of condoms, offers education to community members of all ages, and opens doors many would not have access to based on her previously built relationships. In 2003, the documentary “Mama June: A Different Perspective on AIDS” was released, challenging the attitudes and prejudiced eyes that view AIDS as a moral issue.
Just over two years have passed since June’s decision to publicly disclose her disease. Despite the personal risk, emotionally and socially, she continues to reach out to others. She belongs to the Speakers Bureau for AIDS Vancouver Island, is assisting in setting up a support group for HIV+ peoples with the Duncan Friendship Centre.
On October 15, 2005 she will be the Introductory Speaker at the Mama June HIV/AIDS Relief Effort Fundraiser being sponsored by Sukhi Lalli Pharmaceutical Care Clinic, sharing her experiences and insights. After that, who knows…. when I last spoke to June she was considering returning to her beloved Kasulu to continue the work, that is so obviously her passion. With this energetic redhead, anything is possible for her next adventure!