“I was angry with my mother for infecting me with HIV through Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) and keeping the information about my status to herself until I grew to an adolescent. I was even furious with God for allowing this to happen to me as I suddenly felt unwanted: I became highly suicidal and - lost hope to live. I even thought that O’level examination preparations were all in vain.” said Phyllis
Phyllis is a 22 year old young woman who stays in Midlands Province and she was born with HIV in January 1995.
She grew up having persistent boils all over her body. During one of the visits to the hospital the doctor suggested that Phyllis be tested for HIV; by then she was 16 years old. She took the HIV test with confidence as she believed that the result would be negative because she never had sexual relationships. Phyllis and her mother were perturbed upon receiving HIV positive results. The only possible reason which came to her mind was that she got infected through her mother.
In 2015 during one of the Zvandiri support group meetings which Phyllis attended, a Mentor from Africaid talked about various differentiated services which are offered by the organization and Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS). “My hope was restored; I felt the urge to work for my community supporting my peers who are also HIV+.” Phyllis trained as a CATS and during the training week she felt even more confident to encourage other HIV+ adolescents and young people to get tested and live a healthy life through sharing her story.
When Phyllis was a CATS, her responsibility included counselling and supporting a cohort of HIV positive children & adolescents in her community through home and clinic visits. She identified adherence challenges, traced treatment defaulters, and proactively identified and referred children and adolescents in need of further investigation for possible opportunistic infections, treatment failure, child protection issues and their psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health needs.
With support and mentorship she received from the Zvandiri Mentors she became the chairperson for the Zvandiri National Advocacy Team where she amplified the voices of HIV positive children, adolescents and young people.
In 2016, Phyllis was nominated to be a Determined Resilient Empowered AIDS-free Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) Ambassador. She worked towards improving the uptake of youth-friendly HIV Testing Services (HTS) among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) and she supported them through referral to HTS, education, Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and life skills so that they become resilient, empowered and determined to live no matter the challenges they were facing.
DREAMS is an initiative which is being funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), through USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is an ambitious partnership to dramatically reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women. The goal of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe women.
Phyllis felt more passionate about the work she was doing and wanted to do more in supporting CAYPLWHIV. She served as a Zvandiri Intern from October 2016 and recently was recruited as the Zvandiri Mentor for Gweru district which is supported by USAID. She is now responsible for coordinating the scale up of the Zvandiri model and CATS services through technical capacity building of Ministry of Health and Child Care service providers, support and mentorship of CATS. “I never thought I would come this far.” Said Phyllis with joy. “My achievements have made me forget about all my tribulations, I will do my best to see every HIV+ child and young person achieve their dreams!”