Friday, February 14, 2014

HIV pioneers honoured

By Meluse Kapatamoyo

The year 2013 ended on a celebratory note for 12 lucky individuals who were honoured as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) Zambia Champions for their work in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The champions were honoured at an official award ceremony held at the Radisson Blu Hotel on December 13, 2013.

In August, the organization launched a contest calling for nominations of Champions from across the country to honour and recognize for their passion and tireless dedication to their communities.

PEPFAR Country Coordinator, Kristie Mikus, had this to say about the recipients, " Each champion speaks out for those who need a voice, cares, for those who cannot care for themselves, and fights against stigma and discrimination  of people living with HIV."

U.S Embassy's Charge' d' Affaires, David Young commended the champions for embodying the spirit of Nelson Mandela in their inspirational leadership, and thanked them for their passion and shared vision for an AIDS-free generation in Zambia."

Each champion was featured in a PEPFAR Zambia 2014 Calendar in addition to receiving a $1, 000 to donate to a local organization or community group of their choice.

PEPFAR Zambia 2013 Champions
Among those honoured was Sister Mariola Mierzejewska, sister-in-charge of Kasisi Children's Home. She and her staff are currently providing care and support to 250 orphans and vulnerable children, 60 of whom are living with HIV.
Anita Muchanga was honoured posthumously. She died at age 16, four years after discovering she was HIV.  Rather than giving up, she continued to attend school and formed  "the children's corner" where she talked openly with peers about her HIV status and provided counseling to children facing stigma, and helped them speak out. Her mother, Monica Muchanga received the award.

Other recipients on the list included; Henry Siwo and Colonel Emmanuel Daka. Every fortnight, people from kilometers(AFAR) congregate at Tithandizani ("We Help Each Other") Health Center to receive both ARVs and education about living with HIV and AIDS, led by Siwo.
Colonel Daka is Commanding Officer at Zambia National Service Camp in Kitwe. He was one of the first military officers to openly discuss his HIV status and currently  promotes counseling and testing among his troops, taking personal responsibility for mentoring those who are HIV positive.

The PEPFAR Award also went to Eunice Chikoye, a widow, who tested positive to HIV after her husband's death in 2002. A farmer, who also sells vegetables at the market to raise money for her children's school fees, after her work, Eunice walks to the clinic and reports for duty as an HIV counselor.  She is a trained facilitator for HIV groups and serves as a counterpart to a U.S Peace Corps Volunteer in her community.

Joining her was Alex Makina, also living positively. In just two years of discovering his status, he formed 20 support groups in Mwinilunga, leading to a significant reduction in stigma against those living with HIV in the area. After moving to Mufumbwe, Alex led the formation of 45 support groups in the district. He supports group members to access ARVS, and promotes services for Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision, condom distribution, and male involvement in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Equally deserving of the award was Deacon Revious Chisha, who established a voluntary and testing center in Mongu. Since then, more than 8000 people have been tested for HIV and 300 orphans have received support.  The deacon formed a support group for positive living with HIV, linked the Voluntary Counseling and Treatment (VCT) center with rural health centers, started a school to train Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC's)s in tailoring, computers and carpentry and income - generating activities.

Also honored was Minerva Phiri, founder and head of Bwafwano Care Providers. For 10 years, she has helped provide food for undernourished children, nutrition education for widows and trainings on other important topics such as human rights and disputes over land. She runs workshops on HIV and AIDS and drug abuse, encourages women to get tested for HIV and has helped to protect young girls from sexual exploitation.

Chief Mumena shakes hands with Prof Nkandu Luo
Clad in traditional regalia, His Royal Highness Chief Eshiloni Mumena from North-Western province, a powerful advocate of Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision (VMMC) was also handed the PEPFAR Championship award. In 2011 and at age 47, he underwent circumcision, after hearing about VMMC from his 18 year old son. Since his procedure, he now actively promotes the practice through out Zambia and in other Southern African countries.

Angela Malik has set up three community-based organizations in the Ng'ombe compound in the capital, Lusaka and is also co-founder of Ng'ombe Home-Based care where she remains an active caregiver. Angela started the Kondwa ("Be Happy") Day Care Center by converting her own property, a former bar run by her late husband, into a place where orphaned children could get meals and give their guardians rest. The Pakachele Community School is a primary school where children go after they "graduate" from the Kondwa Day Care Center and the Seko (Laughter) House is a home for orphaned girls providing shelter, food, education, psychosocial care, and spiritual guidance.

Paul was orphaned at 18 and formed the PAZESA Horticultural Community to assist others who find themselves in similar circumstances, working 20 years to assist OVCs and their households. Paul and PAZESA have assisted nearly 6, 000 individuals through linking support groups to a global network for people living positively.

The list would have been incomplete without renowned doctor, Mannasseh Phiri, one of Zambia's leading and outspoken HIV and AIDS activists. Apart from being a columnist and hosting  a radio show which tackles the complexities surrounding the disease, he addresses issues head on related to homosexuality, sex workers, gender-based violence, people living with HIV and adopting a rights-based approach in advocating for HIV services for all. PYM

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