Youth overcomes denial to become a HIV/AIDS advocate
Thirty year-old Roseline Tshuma is a resident of ward five in Epworth District - situated South-East of Harare, approximately 18kms away. She is a single parent to a seven year-old daughter who attends grade one at Kubatana Primary school. Roseline is 1.6 meters tall, dark complexioned and maintains natural short hair and vends vegetables for a living. Behind all these lie a radiant smile, an infectious laugh and big black eyes that welcome one to her rather feather-soft persona. Roseline is a direct beneficiary of capacity building programs by Youth Agenda Trust (YAT). YAT is a partner to ActionAid International Zimbabwe (AAIZ).
In September 2008, Roselyn’s life made a dramatic change for the worst - so it would seem. But looking at the past, the turn of events was for a bigger cause. It all started following her increasingly deteriorating health and endless calls by her sister Jacqueline Tshuma for her to get a full medical check. This was because she was always in and out of hospitals and taking all kinds of prescribed drugs to cure an array of ailments. She reluctantly visited Shurugwi Hospital, in Shurugwi District in the midlands Province. On this day, she was tested for all other ailments but before medication was prescribed, the doctor advised her to take a HIV/AIDS test. Knowing that she could not possibly have the virus; with confidence, she agreed. The doctor went ahead to counsel her before the test as is the procedure. After approximately eight minutes of waiting, she was informed that she had tested positive to the HIV/AIDS virus. It seemed like a whole day of pin-drop silence, her world stopped! “I can never forget that moment. I was informed that I have the virus. That moment is etched in my mind. My whole body felt numb, i was distraught and i felt lost” she says amidst an empty look.
According to the UNAIDS report of 2014, approximately 1.6 million people are living with the HIV/AIDS virus in Zimbabwe with women aged 15 years and over forming more than half of the total number currently at approximately 830,000. In September 2008, Roseline’s status confirmation added to these statistics and is now reflective of the situation of many other youth in Epworth and across the country.
Between September 2008 and March 2013, Roseline was in total denial and constantly on the run from the thought that she was positive. She stopped managing her business. She could barely take care of herself nor her daughter. But her sister never gave up hope on her. Jacqueline became her support pillar. In May 2013, Roseline joined YAT as a volunteer, merely to keep busy. Being a female who showed drive and ambition, within 4 months she was accorded opportunities to undergo a series of trainings, workshops and seminars on HIV/AIDS care, Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), Advocacy and Campaigns and Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) organized by YAT. Through these trainings, she acquired knowledge, confidence as well as skills on psycho-social support and young people’s rights.
With a bright sparkle in her eyes, she narrates, “Though I was not cured of the virus, I felt alive again. Upon joining YAT, life became a bit bearable and meaningful. I learnt a lot about how to take care of myself. At times, the other members would escort me to pick up my drugs from Mvuma Hospital located, 50Kms from my home. Now I have no fear or shame of living with the disease. I appreciate that I am not alone and that I it’s my right to freely live and talk about it. That’s why I am free to talk to you right now”.
Following the training and guidance offered by YAT, she opted to pick herself up to champion for other youth making poor life decisions like she did and suffering life-long consequences because of those decisions by becoming a human rights advocate for popular access to information and awareness for informed decision making. Roseline also got to revive her business.
In her neighborhood, there is a high number of positives who are mainly youth. She appreciates that HIV/AIDS has a major negative impact on development as such she takes pride in mobilizing the youth to get tested and to live responsible lives. She believes that through targeted engagement with the youth using the power of advocacy & community mobilization to reach those affected directly and indirectly, there will be significant awareness and informed decision making leading to reduction of new cases and increase in those who are opening up about their status.
“There is need to champion for significant changes in attitude to bring about greater individual responsibility, psycho-social support & understanding of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS” she asserts.