Things had fallen apart! The day had started off as any other normal day. Little did she know that it was a day that would shatter her long time dream of one day seeing her husband as a freeman. The message was delivered – her husband had died in Prison! 14 years after the death of her husband Bessie Nyambalo recounts life struggles and achievements while living with HIV.
“When I had fallen sick, my family rejected me. My husband’s family was nowhere near me. I took care of my three little children single handedly. I spent six weeks in hospital on a TB treatment. Nobody was coming forward to see me. Hospital workers wondered if I ever had relatives” explains Bessie in her low deep voice.
She continues to narrate how sickly she was. She became thin and pale. She had no hope for the future. Day in day out she believed she was on her death bed.
Bessie became sick and tired of being sick and tired – the world had smiled at her again. She regained her strength and was discharged from hospital. However, the struggle for her recognition in the family and community was a never ending process. She experienced the worst form of stigma and discrimination. People could not come near her for fear of contracting HIV. However, she now understands them because if people are informed, they will do the right thing – it is when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudice.
When Bessie started on Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), she was energized to prove critics wrong. She went back to her job as a cleaner at Makwapala Health Center. She invested in farming and harvested 30 bags of maize and 20 bags of rice. People could not believe this. Her relatives started coming closer, begging for the maize and rice. She joined Faith Trust support group where she got support. This further motivated her to come out and start talking openly about HIV and AIDS.
As the saying goes – ‘struggle is a never ending processing’. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation. In 2007, Bessie got transferred to Lambulira Health Center, in the area of Traditional Authority Chikowi. Moving from a community she had promoted openness,built care and support to a community that was still boxed in silence and annexed by ignorance, Bessie felt pushed down on the ladder. Little did she know that would be the beginning of a vibrant 35 member support group called Tikhale ndi Moyo (Lets Have life).
While working at a health centre, she realized that there was a lot of secrecy and silence surrounding HIV and AIDS in the area. People could come and get tested in secrecy. There were a lot of AIDS related deaths in community. People spent a lot of money consulting witch doctors. Bessie then made a decision to break out the silence. Every morning she could take her ARV drugs in front of people at the Out Patients Department (OPD) area and encouraged them to come forward for HIV testing.
“At first people couldn’t believe. They never expected someone working in a hospital to be HIV positive” explains Bessie.
The then Head teacher of Ulumba Primary School approached her and together they started off Tikhale ndi Moyo support group.
Three years down the line, the group has moved from 10 members to 35 members with ten males. They move around sensitizing fellow community members to go for HIV testing. They also give each other a message of hope. They emphasize that ARVs do not cure AIDS but rather lengthen one’s life. Through farming and theatre, they are able to raise a few resources to support OVCs, the elderly and fellow group members. The group has also incorporated prayers as a tool for fighting stigma and discrimination.
However, it is not all that rosy! Tikhale ndi Moyo support group and people living with HIV face a number of challenges in the community. Bessie points out to stigma as one major challenge. There are some members of the group that come from afar.
“Not that there are no support groups in their areas, but for fear of being mocked, ridiculed and discriminated. Their families do not even know that they are in this support group. And that’s one of the issues we want to address at the moment” said Bessie.
High Poverty levels is also affecting positive living among people living with HIV. They simply cannot meet their dietary needs. Her wish is to see group members engaging in income generating activities.
Finally, she was all praises to YONECO for addressing their third challenge of information gap.
“This is the first time the group has undergone a training. Sometime back we only had three members attending TB training. But we believe having knowledge on Positive Living is very important to us.” explains Bessie.
She believes the training is important and timely and that it will go a long way in building the knowledge gap among the members. However, she is looking forward on how they can work with YONECO in engaging the members in Income Generating Activities in 2011. She is grateful to the support and technical support they have always had from YONECO that has contributed to their growth.
This case study was captured during training of support groups in lambulira, TA Chikowi, Zomba District. The training was supported by UNFPA and facilitated by Michael Sumani of YONECO and Ntafu Chirwa of Dignitas.