BY MELUSE KAPATAMOYO
For most people, the commemoration of World AIDS Day (WAD) which falls on December 1 each year entails march pasts and listening to speeches filled with frightening statistics on the high levels of HIV, I celebrated the day with staff at Alliance for Community Action on HIV and AIDS (Alliance Zambia) who observed the day in a unique way by sharing their personal experiences with and about the disease.
The organisation which deliberately commemorated WAD on December 3, 2012 so as to coincide with World Disability Day also saw staff spend part of their afternoon visiting Cheshire Homes for the Disabled in Kabulonga where they donated baby caps and clothing to care-givers.
With staff gathered in the conference room, the day started early with a preview of the short South African film “The Sky in her eye”, a story about a young girl who loses her mother to AIDS and as the film progresses, she has to deal with discrimination not only from her peers but elders in the community. This was followed by a general discussion on lessons learnt from the movie and alternative ways of how to better take care of children orphaned by the disease and those living with it.
From the discussion it was interesting to note, that while staff agreed that financial help to those orphaned with HIV and those living with it is key to limiting some of the problems they have to endure, the consensus was that a stable family structure offering hope and love was even more important. In such a set-up, challenges like discrimination would be handled more effectively and pave way for open discussion on matters relating to HIV and AIDS.
Interestingly enough, soon after the discussion, members of staff were asked to take a 45 minute break to reflect on how HIV had impacted their personal lives. To express their emotions, they were tasked to write stories or draw pictures.
Being a naturally inquisitive person, I was tempted to walk over to their tables so I could find out before hand what their story or picture was about, but their facial expressions told me, they needed that alone time. As I wrote my own story, what came to mind was the courage that people living with HIV exhibit on a daily basis. I thought about a woman like Clementine Mumba who has lived positively for more than 12 years. I have never met a woman so determined to live life despite the many challenges she has had to face in the past and may continue to face in the coming years.
I thought about children born with HIV, especially those who are now in their teen years. Unlike other children who have nothing to worry about except look forward to growing up, they have to worry about their health, and how to deal with love and relationships; to pretend otherwise about their status or tell the truth and risk discrimination. But even with such challenges, they somehow find the strength to wake up each day and go on. Without realising it, the exercise had led me to deal with some of the unresolved issues I had regarding HIV and how it had impacted my life.
A drawing of a mobile phone presented by Alliance Zambia Executive Director, Jillian Johannsen particularly caught my attention. In her explanation, simply looking at her cellphone was a reminder enough of the impact HIV had had in her life as some of the numbers belonged to friends and colleagues, she will never call because they had passed on after succumbing to the virus.
At the end of the presentations, they were teary eyes around the table and not much to say. We were all soaked with different emotions at the reality of just how devastating HIV had been in each one of our lives. Although it had clearly affected us in different ways, the impact was the same.
However, while the session may have been emotional, a quiet time of reflection was exactly what the team needed. For people whose daily work involves dealing with different issues relating to health including HIV, it is very easy for one to get caught up in work and neglect ones family and even themselves.
Perhaps timely, the session was followed by another South African documentary, ‘The Moment.’ The funny and honest film features, people from different backgrounds who share their most personal thoughts about courtship and sexual behaviour. The discussion tackles the process of sex from the “moment you meet, the moment you connect, the moment you seduce, the moment you kiss, the moment you take your clothes off and the moment before penetration.” Unfortunately, for all the participants in the documentary, the “moment to wear a condom never came.”
By the time we left Alliance Zambia premises and all drove in a convoy to Cheshire Homes, we had all relaxed and looked forward to what lay ahead. Although we found the children had gone marching to commemorate World Disability Day, the sister in-charge gave the team a tour of the facility before presenting clothing and baby caps to the care-givers.
Sister Marjorie, thanked the team for the donation making note that while the centre has received donations in the past, none were ever directed for staff, something she greatly appreciated.
Thankfully, the children arrived back in time for us to say hello. As we drove back to Alliance Zambia, I remember thinking just what a privilege it was for me to work with such an amazing group of people.PYM