Imagine a young girl growing up in a community where everyone knows her HIV status. Imagine that people speculated how long she had left to live in this world. Children tend to have many questions but there’s no way to answer: Why is everyone pointing at me? What is HIV? Where did I get it from?” These were just some of the challenges I faced throughout my childhood life, growing up in the congested slum community only 6 years of age, I had switched between some 15 homes. Little did I know that even as a child, I was sometimes stigmatised and discriminated against.

 

My mother had died of HIV and this was one of the indicators that I was also infected, based on the myth about HIV by then no one wanted to associate with me. In this process when I was 13yrs, I developed tuberculosis and it was misinterpreted as cough so was treated with local herbs to get relief. At age of 17 in 2004 I started anti-viral drugs and tuberculosis attacked me again. This was called multi-drug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis and because of my background I couldn’t finish high school. Relatives were worried to spend school fees on me thinking I was dying. I stayed home from the age of 18 -21 yrs. I was devastated and frustrated that I couldn’t take well my medication thinking soon I’m dying here I failed on first line ARVs.

 

In 2008 I involved myself with volunteering with a health centre. I believed that was all that I could do to gain more professional and educational experience.  I was trusted to be part of this clinic and my roles there showed me there’s always hope, I carried out home visits, pill counting, counselling, and peer support since then, everything changed in my life for the better. I left the centre and joined other organisations with related work in HIV and young people till 2017. For 10 years, I served in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), where I gained the necessary knowledge to set up an initiative, TENDO’S WORLD (ARTS & HEALTH) in 2018 a mentorship organisation empowering children, adolescents and young women living with HIV to maintain hope and look towards the future.

Young mothers with HIV are often stigmatised for their HIV status, despite this deriving from circumstances beyond their control.

 

Today, Tendo’s World is comprised of 30 young women living with HIV, mostly young mothers who have recently experienced sex, pregnancy and HIV for the first time and need support. It's very disappointing to witness that many have been abandoned by their friends and loved ones, whilst others don’t feel they can disclose their predicament. Young and expectant mothers living with HIV highly vulnerable because they have trouble finding regular employment and have an infant depending on them, which contributes to poor adherence to HIV management processes; hence, their infants are at higher risk of contracting HIV.

 

My role is to mentor and build the capacity of these women to live comfortably and conscientiously with HIV so that they can pick themselves up and be innovative for the benefit of their lives and infants. Most young mothers face the double stigma and challenges of having a baby at a tender age and being HIV-Positive.  They shy away even from seeking medication for fear of judgement. I have also mentored many young girls and boys to create awareness of HIV and other related diseases. I believe that no baby should be born with a virus and no one should die due to AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria.

 

I am a speaker of Global Fund Speakers’ Bureau gfan, where I work to sensitise communities to the importance of HIV prevention, monitoring, testing and management by sharing my own story. I highlight the dangers of not going for screening, particularly with children given HIV symptoms can oftentimes manifest as a mere cough.

I also represent young women living with HIV at National Validation Committee at the Ministry of Health and am a champion of the online campaign #WhatWomenWant. led by ATHENA NETWORK to collect the individual priorities of 1 million women regarding their sexual and maternal health. I am also a mentor mother of the 4M project am, advocacy for cure academy AVAC which is a platform to develop research literacy in HIV cure and to improve and reinforce advocacy skills as well as both a Zimba Mentor and am a fellow of young African leader’s initiative 2017. I have steadfastly dedicated myself to doing all of these things and raising my profile as an HIV-Positive advocate because of my past experiences as a person, different projects I have done like Link up project this helped to work with key population groups in sexual reproductive health service delivery, Ask project, 4M project mentor mother living with HIV throughout the pregnant journey 

 

It has not been an easy road, but I’ve learned the importance of understanding that one’s past does not dictate their future. I had to accept myself and stay optimistic in order to become a strong woman, an advocate for not only young women living with HIV, but girls, boys and children in my community also. After all those years, I finally managed to go back to school to pursue my Diploma in Public Administration and Management and am working hard to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as creating an enabling environment for HIV-Positive mothers, children and girls.

 

At times people with HIV are anguished by their situation around us and conclude that our stories are over, but as I tell the women I mentor: Being born with HIV isn’t a crime. There’s a lot to do as a young woman yet. I still believe in the woman in me and am looking forward to creating a big training hub for less-privileged young people who didn’t finish high school so that they can learn skills that will benefit their lives despite their HIV status.

 

 

 About the Author.