My name is Crystal and I am 21 years old. I stay with my mother, stepfather and nephew. I have never really understood why or how I became HIV positive, hence accepting my status was very difficult. I attended a lot of counselling sessions to try and help me through the process but I always thought something went wrong with the test and requested for several re-tests.
I started thinking that everyone around me could tell that I was living with HIV and in turn I started stigmatizing myself to the extent of refusing to talk to anyone for weeks on end. Gradually I refused to participate in any school activities and I would even sometimes bunk my lessons because I just was not comfortable being around people. My mother was there for me and she understood what I was going and never tried to force me to join any groups at school.
One day in 2015 when I was waiting to take my medication at the adolescent side, a development facilitator was talking about something called the Buddy System and MMPZ’s Active Citizen Clubs (MMPZ is a SAT partner) that were available to assist other young people who were finding it difficult to take their medication and offered peer to peer support. I laughed to myself as I thought that it was a total waste of time.
I was in my uniform and I watched the girl approach me with a smile on her face. She introduced herself as Lisa and offered to collect my medication for me so that I wouldn’t be late for school. I agreed and as she accompanied me at every stop, she kept asking questions about me and showing interest in me that I never really understood why. I tried to ignore her but she kept on talking and I was left with no other choice but to respond. She then asked for my address and phone number and invited me to attend an Club meeting. I declined but she smiled and said “see you next week my friend”. I thought she was a strange and peculiar girl but was grateful for her assistance as I managed to get my medication in less than 10 minutes. That same evening, she called just to greet me and from then on she would send messages, eventually she grew on me and we became friends.
As I began to trust Lisa after about five months or so I decided to give the Active Citizen Club a try. The environment was different from what I expected and it felt great just having so many faces smiling at me and greeting me and some even standing up to give me a hug. I participated in a variety of activities and the group shared a lot of life experiences. From then on, I became a regular member. With time, I eventually started leading the group in activities with the help of Lisa and when she felt I was confident enough, I began planning for and facilitating the activities on my own. For the first time in a long time, living with HIV did not bother me or affect me in any way.
In 2016, the project officer asked me if I wanted to be a facilitator. I was shocked and did not feel I could manage. I became a facilitator and it felt like I was now part of a second family. They assisted me with career guidance and that is when I applied to do Psychology at university. Though I was still very shy, they encouraged me to join a sport or community group. I joined chess club earlier this year and though the game was new to me I discovered I had been sitting on so many possibilities. In the space of 12 months I have represented not only my University, but my province and my country at different levels.
I call myself the pupa who turned into a butterfly because in the last three years I have changed in a positive way to be the confident young lady who I am today.
I understand that my status is not a death sentence and I understand that I can be anything I want to be. I have been assisting four other young people who were traced and it feels great to know I too can change the life of another just by being a friend.
Names have been changed to protect identity. Photograph is stock.