In Zambia there are few people who feel confident in sharing their story about HIV. People are fearful of discrimination. But often people need someone to relate to, that they can look up to and know that they aren't the only one.
Many of the comments we hear from the children who attend our support groups is that they often feel very alone. Like they are the only one living with HIV. Many of the children we see are double orphans and they can often equate HIV with death, leaving them to look bleakly upon the future. Because of this they often stigmatize themselves.
Self stigma can lead to isolation, with a child withdrawing from friends, family and school. Children need reassurance that they are not alone. This is where our Children's Retreat support groups come in.
The children's retreat's run over 6 sessions during the weekends. Children learn about HIV, medication, what is stigma, what is discrimination, and how to lead a healthy life. Alongside building knowledge and confidence, the children form friendships and support networks.
Support networks are so vital in vulnerable children's lives. And hearing from adolescents and young adults who are living positively is essential to provide inspiration to the children, that they too can be successful.
Each children's retreat a peer mentor comes to the final session to talk about how they are living a positive life. In last month's final group our peer mentor pulled out at the last minute. Luckily our staff counselor was quick to step in to share her story.
Sharing you status when you are living with HIV is an incredibly personal decision to make. But for those who make the choice, the impact they can have on children, parents and families is huge. Showing that you are living a healthy life, that sharing your story hasn't lead to rejection from the community is empowering for people.
Seeing that someone living with HIV is successful, either in completing school, in work or in life in general gives children hope. Hope that they can too be healthy. Hope that they can complete school and go onto do a job they love. Hope that their future isn't as bleak as they once thought. That hope combined with education and skills development is life changing.