Nearly 1 million women are becoming infected with HIV every year and only half of all women living with HIV have access to lifesaving treatment—making AIDS the leading cause of death worldwide among women between the ages of 30 and 49 (UNAIDS). Lots of people and organizations talk about women and girls and how they are affected by HIV and AIDS but as one of the women affected, this World AIDS Day I’d like to share with you my story. And, I’d like to share with you why I believe women hold the key to ending AIDS for good.
When I was 19 years old, and carrying my first child, I went to my local clinic for antenatal care. When I was offered an HIV test I gladly accepted, believing nothing could go wrong. I could not believe it when the test strip showed two lines. Reality kicked in. I was HIV-positive.
I was scared and filled with questions I had no answers to.
The nurse told me about a charity called mothers2mothers and took me to a room where I found a group of women sitting, sharing, laughing. When I was told that all those women were HIV-positive I did not believe it; why would any HIV-positive person be happy? I discovered that these HIV-positive women were employed by mothers2mothers as “Mentor Mothers”. Their job was to help me through my pregnancy and to ensure my child was born HIV-free. They spoke to me, but I was too angry and sad to share anything. They tried to make me understand that HIV was no death sentence; that I did not have to pass the virus to my child and I could use my diagnosis as the start of a better life.
I went home and it took me a day to tell my family. They were very supportive and that encouraged me to go back to mothers2mothers for more information. I was still not convinced these women were not lying to me, but I was willing to try anything for the sake of my child.
In the months to come, I bonded with the Mentor Mothers. I went to support groups, followed their advice, took my medication, and my baby was born HIV-negative.
I was grateful and wanted to give back. Three months after my baby was born I joined the army of Mentor Mothers. It was now my turn to provide support, education, and hope for the future to other mothers who still saw HIV as a death sentence. I became living proof of the statement; you empower a woman, you empower the nation.
Working as a Mentor Mother opened my eyes to new opportunities. I was now able to financially support myself and my son. I was able go back to school to fulfill my lifelong dream of having a degree. That journey was not easy. Like many young people I know, I was not only financially responsible for myself and my child, but also for my cousins who had lost their mother to AIDS-related illnesses. It took me a while to complete my course but, I am proud to have finally graduated.
At the age of four, my son suddenly died in a car accident. I cannot even begin to describe how that loss nearly took my very soul. But I will always be grateful that it was through women I met at mothers2mothers that I was able to pull through and continue living life. I have since moved into the communications team at mothers2mothers and work in our global head office in Cape Town.
One of the best things about my current job is training other Mentor Mothers to become the voice of mothers2mothers. No one can tell the stories of hope and courage of African mothers better than the African mothers themselves. Mothers are the greatest under-utilised resource the world has. Their tenacity to ensure only the best for their children is exactly what the world needs to eliminate HIV and create healthy families.
Women are most affected by the epidemic. But they also hold the key to ending AIDS. Last year alone, mothers2mothers and our partners enrolled nearly 2 million new clients, and helped prevent 700,000 infants from HIV infection. Not only did these remarkable women stop a new generation from becoming infected with HIV, they also helped families to thrive by providing advice in the areas of nutrition and early childhood development.
The investment mothers2mothers made in the 19 year old me has ensured that thousands of babies were born HIV negative. I am just one of thousands of former and current Mentor Mothers whose lives have helped thousands of others, and whose own lives have changed for the better.
Today, I am no longer that timid and fearful teenage mother. I am woman who has taken advantage of the opportunities life presented. I am pleased to tell you that I am now a proud mother of a five-year-old HIV-negative little girl. My journey with mothers2mothers has helped me have a healthy family I can support, a fulfilling career as a communications professional and I have travelled the world and met fascinating people. If we invest in the power of women and mothers; you and I have the power to change the world we live in. One family at a time!
More about mothers2mothers https://youtu.be/hF37gc11390 @mothers2mothers @m2mtweets