Living the high life is something we have come to expect from footballers in Europe, but a former Kenya player turned farmer working with international development charity, Send a Cow says his promiscuous lifestyle killed the woman he loved.

Nelson Wanyama was 20 when he was ‘called up’ to play for the national team. Born in Eldoret in Western Kenya, Nelson is the second eldest out of an older sister, three step brothers and a step sister.

He started playing football when he was 12, “all children who love football have the ambition of playing at the highest level for their country,” says Nelson. “I was no different.”

Nelson attended primary school and high school, but played football at every opportunity, “I’m not bragging, but I was very good.” He started playing for his local league in 1987, when he was 14 and started working immediately after leaving school.

“Money was a struggle,” remembers Nelson. “Football was my passion, my release. It kept me going.”

But from the moment he became a Kenya player everything changed.

“There are changes that come from money, especially when you come from a humble background. Suddenly there was more pressure and demand on me and I was still very young, with limited knowledge, so I lacked the experience to deal with these challenges or control what came my way.”

Nelson played national football for two years. The lifestyle was completely different to what he had known before. He had a celebrity status, his name was in the newspapers and in the stadium. As a team they travelled around the country to play.

None of us ever thought about HIV. As football celebrities we didn’t think that it could touch us. It belonged to other people, but not us

“I’d have a different relationship in every town and no protection,” he says. “None of us ever thought about HIV. As football celebrities we didn’t think that it could touch us. It belonged to other people, but not us.”

Nelson’s promiscuity came with an added danger. Kenya has the fourth-largest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2012, an estimated 1.6 million people were living with HIV, and each year roughly 57,000 people die from AIDS-related illnesses.

In 1995 he met Rose. He was 22, “of course she knew who I was,” he said smiling. “We were in a bar and I saw her, standing there, waiting for me to come over.” They began a relationship and after a year they were married.

“I was still playing for Kenya, going to matches in Nairobi and then coming home to her. Me being a celebrity was hard for her but she was so patient. She understood me and she coped with all the demands of an outgoing husband who is never home.”

Nelson and Rose had twin boys, Brian and Bernard and then a back injury hampered Nelson from national football, so he went back to playing at club level, where he stayed for ten years, as Captain for eight years, before retiring from active football in 2002.

In October 1996 Rose became ill.

“There was a lot of stigma about HIV, no-one wanted to be associated with it,” reflects Nelson. “It was tough, we’d take her to hospital but no-one was clear about what was actually wrong with her so she was never properly treated. She suffered with it for eight years before she passed. And only then did the doctors tell us it was HIV.”

Nelson went into a deep depression; “You have to understand that I didn’t think, for one moment, that that was what she had. How could she have got it? I knew she was loyal to me.”

He couldn’t function without her, unable to look after his 10 year old twin boys, Nelson’s health deteriorated. It was his mother that eventually convinced him to go and get tested to find out what was ‘eating him.’

after Rose’s death...I was diagnosed [with HIV]. [T]hen I realised it was me that had brought it upon her...She was a loving mother, a faithful wife. And I killed her.

“It was 6 months after Rose’s death that I was diagnosed. It was then that I realised it was me that had brought it upon her. I have to live with that for the rest of my life. She was a loving mother, a faithful wife. And I killed her.”

Nelson’s diagnosis pushed him down deeper, the stigma and guilt isolating him from his family even further.

“Knowing my life was no longer mine weighed me down. I wanted to be alone and not explain myself to anyone. It was my mother who kept telling me to speak up, and the more I talked about myself, the easier I found it to accept my situation. It was then that I decided that I didn’t want to be held back, or shrink away, I wanted to go out there and speak to the people.”

But before going out ‘to the people’. Nelson first had to speak to his children.

“I sat down and told my children what I had. I told them it was me that brought it home and killed their mother. They told me not to feel guilty, their support and love brought me to tears and, ultimately, gave me back my strength.”

When Nelson first started talking to people about HIV they didn’t believe he was positive because he was healthy and smart. When they did start to believe him, they didn’t want to deal with him.

“They thought if they used the same cup as me they’d get infected, so I had to begin by trying to educate people about catching HIV.”

In time, Nelson became a teacher in the community, being invited to forums and groups to talk about this ‘hidden disease’.

“Slowly I was changing things,” says Nelson. “This made me feel great.”

I also wanted to lead by example, and show that a HIV positive person could have love, a relationship and a family.

Football had been Nelson’s greatest passion, and he kept thinking back to that time as a young national player when he believed that he truly was untouchable and unaccountable for his actions.

“My heart sunk for the many footballers living reckless sexual lives, I wanted to go back and talk to some of them to get them to change their behaviour before it was too late for them, or someone they loved.”

Nelson began working with Tackle Africa and Sporting Chance International.

“They took me to training where I used HIV terms in football coaching, because footballers don’t like to talk about it, so, for example, we called the ball a condom and encouraged the players to call for it during the session.

We target the youth. We’re currently running a programme in around 14 schools. I tell them my testimony and because of what I’ve done in the past they take me seriously.”

Nelson has lost friends through being vocal about his HIV status, but he remains encouraged that people are becoming more open.

In 2006 Nelson married Mwainadi, “I thought I could never love again but my children wanted me to have somebody who cared for me. I also wanted to lead by example, and show that a HIV positive person could have love, a relationship and a family. Mwainadi did not have HIV and she still doesn’t. We share an eight year old son, Rooney, who is also HIV negative. We prove that it can work.”

Nelson’s lifestyle is now completely different again. He no longer has the kind of money he had before and has joined a group to receive farming and livestock training from the international development charity, Send a Cow.

“We are not as comfortable, financially, as we were back in those days. What I have learned from Send a Cow gives me vegetables all year round and my coaching job brings in a small amount of money, but I have my life. I have seen my children grow up, I have loved and love again. This makes me happier than having money. This is the richest I could possibly be.”