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A Voice for Young Positive Living

Tlotlo Moilwa

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My name is Tlotlo Lillian Moilwa. I am a Motswana woman born in 1999. My mom passed on when I was six years old, and then my dad passed two years after that. Both my parents died because of AIDS. A few years after they died, I learned I had contracted HIV from my mother when I was born. In the year 2000, the government began rolling out the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission Program, or PMTCT. Thankfully, very few babies contract HIV these days, though this problem has not been fully eliminated.

Today, we have many more testing, treatment and prevention options than we did before. Likewise, the stigma around HIV is not as bad as it used to be. However, this does not mean that it is easy to be a young person living with HIV in Botswana today. I still encounter discrimination and I know many others who are reluctant to test or go on treatment for fear of being stigmatized. Yet, I am living openly and positively with this virus.

For me, living positively means following my passion for inspiring young people, especially those living with HIV. I am the right person to speak for these HIV+ youth because I have faced and am still facing what they are. I have committed my life and my voice to advocate for all those who cannot speak for themselves.

I am a member of Sentebale, a program founded in 2006 by the UK’s Duke of Sussex Prince Harry and Lesotho’s Prince Seeiso. Through Sentebale’s Let Youth Lead program, I have met with political leaders and other youth living with HIV from many countries. In my role as a youth advocate over the past two years, I have represented the voice of young people in Let Youth Lead‘s global forums. As youth advocates, we describe the challenges faced by young people living with HIV and advise government officials and international donors how to support us to live positively and to prevent new infections.

Most recently, I attended the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This conference was truly a life-changing experience as I met and exchanged ideas with dozens of young people from all across the world. I had a private meeting with key influential leaders in the global HIV response, where I spoke on how to design health services that best support young people. At the same conference, I also spoke at a symposium hosted by Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness focused on how our country uses local data to create innovative programs for youth. At UNICEF’s symposium entitled “SHE is the Future: Engaging Adolescent Girls and Young Women for a More Effective HIV Prevention Response,” I advocated for increased consultation and inclusion of youth in decision making on matters relating to girls and young women. My message to my fellow youth is: “Stand up and let your voice be heard!” To our leaders, I say, “Let’s engage young people because without us, it’s not about us!”

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Positive Living

Let’s Fight GBV

The MidweekSun Admin

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On a cool Sunday in March some years ago, I decided to take a walk and I found myself at one very popular place in town.

As the place was known for delicious braai and I was feeling a bit hungry, I decided to order a plate. Seated at a table in the back, I noticed a couple enter. I knew them very well. They chose a table, ordered food, and began drinking beer. It was one beer after the other for both of them. They did not notice me. So I pretended not see them and just sat at my table, slowly sipping my juice. It began to get dark and several things started happening. When I noticed almost everyone was getting very drunk and dancing. I wanted to get out of the place as fast as I could.

As I walked outside to the parking lot, I spotted a cab. As I headed for the cab, I noticed some people in the car next to it. The lady I had seen in the restaurant with her partner earlier was inside the car, but she was kissing a different man. The man who was with the lady earlier arrived and a big fight started. The cab driver refused to go because he wanted to see what was happening. We both were able to hear their loud exchange of words. According to the man, the lady was HIV positive and on treatment. He said he was doing her a favour by dating her while he was HIV negative.

He said he was only in the relationship because he thought he had nowhere to run, because he could be infected and still in the window period. The woman also started shouting out and saying how the man was abusing her because of her condition and that she was fed up. I knew there was no place for me to intervene in this matter, more so that I was sober and they were drunk.

I left the place when the situation was a bit calm, but deep down I wished I could have done something. I told myself I would go see the woman and talk to her on an agreed date, but because of my busy schedule I did not manage to meet with her. Later I heard that the guy had killed her and committed suicide. No one knew the reason for this tragic outcome. I could not help but wonder if the fight that I had witnessed had been the tipping point or if I could have said something to her that would have made a difference.

I share this sad story to illustrate how HIV continues to influence our relationships and contributes to sexual abuse and violence, particularly against women. No one deserves to be mistreated by a partner because of his or her HIV status. We can learn to recognize the signs of abuse, report abuse to the police, and be aware of where to get help if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship. For help, you can contact the following organizations:

Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Center (formerly Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter) at 390-7659, after hours: 74265081, or SMS “HELP” to 16510, or send private message to Facebook: @botswanagbvpreventionandsupportcenter

WoMen Against Rape (WAR) Tel: 686-0865/71311244, Plot 517 Moeti Road, Maun. Facebook: @WoMen Against Rape Email: womenagainstrapemaun@gmail.com
Stepping Stones International (contact in cases involving children 18 and younger); Tel: 573-9858, Facebook: @SteppingStonesInternational

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“Let’s Break Stigma and Face the World”

Reginah

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Iam convinced that the change we need to end the HIV epidemic can only occur if more people living with HIV begin to participate in the response.

I want to appeal to those who have gone into hiding to come out and face the world. We are not part of the problem, rather we are part of the solution. We need to stand up and show people out there HIV is real, but it can be managed if you live positively by starting treatment early and taking care of yourself.

Recently, I met a group of students from a junior secondary school who surprised me with how much they knew about HIV. I realised how important it is to not wait until it’s too late to talk about HIV issues with our young people.

While we are busy trying to hide things from them, thinking that they are too young to understand, they are actually ahead of us. For instance, they asked me why adolescents (under 16) need consent from parents to test for HIV. They explained that this policy presents a barrier to youth knowing their HIV status. Sometimes youth encounter situations that put them at risk and need to test for HIV, but much of the time they cannot easily discuss this with their parents in order to get their consent for testing.

We still have some forms of stigma that are holding us back as a society from ending this epidemic. I have observed on many occasions the look on people’s faces when I talk openly about my status. This is usually followed by silence or unresponsiveness to what I say.

It is my wish to hear an influential person in my country, whether a pastor or any type of leader, talk openly about their HIV-positive status. It would make a big difference and change the public perception about HIV. Of course, going public with your HIV positive status takes not only bravery, but also commitment to a lifelong journey of living not only for yourself but for the community as well. All eyes begin to watch your every move.

For some of us, facing this challenge moulds us into stronger people, while for others, the challenges of going public become too difficult to overcome. That is why it is very important to find a support system before going public, so that one can be prepared ahead of time to respond to these challenges through proper counselling and support. Botswana Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (BONEPWA+) provides this counselling and support free of charge through a large number of support groups that are based throughout Botswana.

Many people are not aware there is this kind of support near their homes, so when they are faced with challenges they break down or go into hiding. I have seen recent success in adopting what is called the greater involvement of people living with HIV. For example, this year the Treat All Champions project, which was supported by PEPFAR, provided a group of 30 of us with a platform to spearhead new activities addressing stigma, disclosure, ARV adherence, and other issues pertaining to people living with HIV. I am thankful to have served as one of the Treat All champions and I am continuing to encourage people to test and know their status all over the country.

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