My name is Ashely, I am 24. I am a vibrant young lady who loves life and everything it has to offer but it was not always like that as life has not always been kind to me. I lost my mom at a very young age and my dad followed when I was 10. At the age of 10 everything I knew and loved was taken from me. I had to go and live with my grandmother who worked as a house maid in the suburbs of Bulawayo. I had to adjust to the new environment and a new school – it wasn’t easy making friends.

Around that time, I was told I was HIV positive – I thought and felt like I was being punished for a wrong I did not remember doing. It wasn’t easy but I got through it and my grandmother was my pillar.

I was very reserved and would refuse to go to the clinic by myself, but by the age of 15 my granny asked about a support group I could join because she was really worried about me as I did not have any friends or social life. She forced me to attend an Active Citizen Club that was held at the clinic monthly. The people were welcoming and I was so surprised to see that there were so many other young people my age who were also living with HIV.

I got to learn a lot about the virus, adherence, modes of transmission and the best part was when my questions about where I got it were answered. I had never really asked anyone and when mother to child transmission was explained to me, I felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulder. I didn’t blame my mother though – I guess I was used to bad luck following me around. I actually started looking forward to the monthly meetings, I made a few friends and I have this one meeting I remember vividly where we planned for a mock wedding. I was one of the ‘brides’ and I looked beautiful. I for once in my life was the centre of attention!

A year after that happy memory, I was diagnosed with kidney failure. I went back into my cocoon – my belly started swelling up and I started losing weight and getting darker. People started passing rumours that I was pregnant, others were saying I was bewitched and others could easily see that I was living with HIV. I started losing all confidence in myself and had decided to just wait for the day I would die.

I stopped going to support as walking had become very difficult. Then I received a call from the project officer asking me to be a youth facilitator. I was doubtful as I wasn’t comfortable being around people but I told myself I would try it out for a few days and see how it goes. I had no confidence at first but the other facilitators and all the staff members helped me settle in. They did not treat me any differently and was told I could be in charge of the playroom. I was shocked at how I could be given such a responsibility in my condition, but I was so happy. I am a quick learner, I learnt how to plan, implement and report on the activities for the under twelves. I learnt how to facilitate and the best thing is, I was part of a family. I continued going for dialysis twice a week, and the doctors were shocked at how well I was doing. My belly started going down and I started gaining a bit of weight. The allowance I was making and the groceries we were receiving were really assisting my grandmother with the medical bills.

I had stopped planning about my future, but now I am actually planning on continuing my education. I am waiting for the doctor to give me the green card, then I will try out something new.

Names have been changed to protect identity. Photo is not of the person in the story.