Taking care of a child living with HIV can wear a parent down. Clinic visits never seem to end. There is never enough food to fill everyone's bellies. And money on hand never seems to cover all the transportation costs and other daily expenses. But when you have 26 other women supporting you, the burdens lighten.
Debbie DeVoe, Catholic Relief Services' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, sat down with members of the Kubatana ("Unity") Support Group in Mufakose township outside of Harare in Zimbabwe. The group was formed in early 2009 with the support of Catholic Relief Services' local partner, the Child Protection Society, and with funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy. The women meet weekly to talk about their problems and share solutions. They also receive training every few months on topics such as good nutrition and the importance of taking HIV medication as directed (antiretroviral adherence). By coming together, these mothers and guardians are helping their children live with HIV while breaking down barriers across their community.
- Debbie DeVoe:
- What do you like about being in a support group?
- Nyarai Pinduka:
- The problems that I face with my children are different from the problems others may have. When we come to the support group, we can share our problems and discuss how we can care for our children. I've learned a lot about issues related to caring for children living with HIV, including nutrition.
- Beauty Kidado:
- I learned about [antiretroviral] adherence and the
importance of giving medication to children at specific times. I also learned
that certain medications may cause side effects, like numbness.
- What are your biggest challenges?
- Christine Shamu:
- Mostly I don't have enough money in my pocket to get to the hospital. It's far away and expensive to get there.
- We have problems with blankets and clothes—keeping our children warm. We also need more food. These children eat so much.
- Jepheta Matope:
- Some of our children's performance at school is down, and paying the school fees is a challenge.
- Elizabeth Kowosa:
- I have my brother's child, but I don't have the money to
send him to school.
- I'm surprised to learn that most of you are so open about your children's HIV status and your own status. Do you or your children face any stigma or discrimination?
- Monica Mashingaidze:
- When my family learned of my status, they didn't want to touch anything I had touched, eat food I had prepared or wash any of my clothes. Even when I'm sick, I still have to do my own laundry. I lost my husband last year in October, so I don't have anyone to help me. Sometimes I get help from the church, but sometimes if I'm hospitalized, I don't have anyone to pay the bills.
- Stella Kandeya:
- My child is the one facing stigma. Other children noticed she had a skin rash, warts on her face and was missing class. Now they won't play with her. Initially she was sad about it, but after counseling and therapy she's okay with it.
- In my family, no one discriminates against my child. They
share utensils, and they all love and care for the child. They'll even take her
to the hospital if I'm not there.
- Why do you think most of you don't face discrimination?
- Because we've been trained, we share [our knowledge] with this community.
- Other community members are reluctant to disclose their status. We try to encourage them.
- Other people have come up to me and said they are scared.
They ask how I disclosed my status.
- Do you think that because you're open about your and your children's status that other people lose their fear of HIV?
- All answering in unison: