I met Letwin a mother of 3 in her 40’s living with HIV at a Training for Transformation workshop (stimulate people’s participation and empowering them to analyse causes of problems, challenge forms of injustice, and plan actions to redress the situations) run by Silveira House in Mahuwe, a growth point in Mbire ward 15. After the workshop Letwin invited me to her house to see and photograph her pig project, this is when she proceeded to tell me her story.
Letwin in the green t-shirt with her neighbours
Letwin explained to me that she was very sick in the early parts of 2008 but her husband would not allow her to go to the hospital to be tested for HIV/AIDS. He used to say to her that if she was found HIV positive she would be the one to blame for bringing the disease upon the family. Her husband subsequently died in 2008 and this is when she decided to be tested for HIV/AIDS and was found positive, so too was her youngest son. Since then they have been taking ARV drugs that suppress the disease in their bodies and they have been living regular lives with her son going to primary school.
After discovering she was HIV positive Letwin began counseling in Guruve, a town 2 hours away and this is where she met other HIV infected people who have been living with the disease for over 15 years. This is when she realized that ‘being infected with HIV/AIDS is not the end of the world’ if you look after yourself, taking the right medication and watching your diet. Now in 2013 she is as vibrant as a 16 year old living her life, attending educating workshops, raising pigs, making candles, growing vegetables and herbs that are advised for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Letwin attending her vegetable and herb garden
Letwin feeding her pigs Sadza (maize meal)
I asked Letwin if her youngest son was bullied or victimized in school and she said not so much but there are always 2 or 3 kids that give him abuse for being on medication. I also asked if she held any animosity towards her late husband who infected her with the HIV virus and she said that it was his own negligence and ignorance that had him buried underground where he is, “we are responsible for our own actions” she said.
What does the future hold for Letwin? She is helping her eldest son get through university, he is studying Social Care at the University of Zimbabwe in the capital Harare. She needs a little financial help to grow her pig and candle business, she currently has 6 pigs. The cooperative group she started the candles with fell apart so she needs to find new members and a little finance to kick start the project again.
Letwin showing her candle making tools (her youngest son in the middle)
I told Letwin I was going to write a story about her and asked if she would have a problem with that, in her own words she said to me, “I have absolutely no problem with that, I would be the first one to stand up and say I am HIV positive,” she giggled and continued, “make sure Im in the papers and on television too.”
I wrote this article because I was moved by Letwin’s story, we need more people like her that know their HIV status, confess, face their fears and deal with the situation at hand. Stigmatization over HIV in Zimbabwe is decreasing, people are realizing that the disease is amongst us and that one can only be infected through unprotected sex and other exchanges of bodily fluids. Situations where infected people are neglected for fear of infecting others have reduced. It is thanks to the efforts of the Zimbabwean Government and NGOs like Silveira House, Christian Care, World Health, World Vision etc, that educate and empower people, MAY THE WORK CONTINUE!!!!
Letwin during a Chinese whisper energizer at the T4T workshop
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