FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE - LIVING WITH HIV IN Lusaka
"I USED TO WONDER WHY I WAS NOT BORN NORMAL AND NOW I KNOW I WAS NOT MEANT TO BE NORMAL BUT EXTRAORDINARY "
By Andrew, 19, TTF Patient and future economist:
"Growing up in a compound around Lusaka was difficult. We never had much at home and when I was young I was always sick, which meant I couldn’t often go out and play or go to school. I grew up with my mum, as my dad had passed away when I was only 5 years old. But then after a long illness she died in 2010. Being a double orphan in Zambia isn’t that uncommon and thankfully I had the support of my aunt who took me and my younger brother to live with her in her home.
When I first started living with my Aunt another relative told me I was sick and had HIV. I was only 14 and didn't know what that meant, I only knew what I had heard in the community, what people said about others with HIV and I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t understand how HIV was transmitted or why I had it, why I was not born normal like other children, so I started to withdraw. I didn’t want to be a burden to my aunt or my family. I stopped going out with my friends as I didn’t want them to know. I knew I was taking medication but didn’t realise up until this point that it was for HIV, after finding out I stopped taking it.
I thought if I stopped taking my medication I would die and then I wouldn’t be a problem to anyone else. Once I stopped taking my medication I became incredibly ill with TB, rashes and various other illnesses. My CD4 was really low which basically meant my immune system was not working. It was at this time that my aunt brought me to TTF, I was at a dark point in my life and the staff at TTF helped to turn that around, without them I doubt I would be alive today.
As soon as I came to TTF they put me on TB treatment to support my medical recovery. I also had intensive counselling with Justin who was a social worker at the time. We met for sessions at the clinic but he also came to my home to talk to me and my aunt about HIV transmission, stigma, discrimination and living a healthy life. He helped me to realise that living with HIV didn’t mean I had to be a burden – that I could have a normal life just like any other child, and that through taking my medication without fail and maintaining a good diet I could become a lot healthier. "
"I THOUGHT IF I STOPPED TAKING MY MEDICATION I WOULD DIE AND THEN I WOULDN'T BE A BURDEN TO ANYONE ELSE"
"Over the past 5 years my aunt and my younger brother have been a great support network. I also talked to Justin and he helped me to disclose my status to a couple of close friends who have been really supportive but I don’t really tell anyone else. My health is a lot better but socially I guess I am still quite shy. I try and stay away from partying and alcohol because I don’t think they are good for me, so I don’t always meet a lot of people. When one of the counsellors at TTF suggested I come to a teenagers support group I thought this would be a great way for me to meet with other people my age going through similar things to me. During the first session at Tisamala, I was worried about fitting in - it seemed like everyone knew each other, and I didn’t really know anyone. The fact that the sessions are run by other HIV+ teenagers is great – they really worked hard to get us moving around as a group and very quickly I began to make friends.
We have talked a lot about relationships, making friends and even what it would be like to have a girlfriend for me. We have also talked a lot about self-worth and grief and loss around HIV – these sessions helped me realise I have previously self-stigmatised and that I don’t need to do that.
Coming has helped build my confidence in making friends, I now feel more confident in talking to people and talking about HIV so that others don’t put themselves at risk.
Before coming to TTF I really had given up on life, but now with all of the different support I feel like I have been reborn. I know how to take care of myself, how to talk to others about HIV and I am finally looking forward to the future – I am just finishing my school, and after I finish I want to work for a while so that I can save money and go to university. I would like to study economics so that I can help my country, help my family and one day have a family of my own. Now I know how to protect myself and prevent transmission I know this is possible.
Really I am so thankful to TTF and the donors who have supported the clinic, counselling and staff, because without them I don’t think I would be here today. I used to wonder why I was not born normal and now I know I was not meant to be normal but extraordinary".