Catherine Murombedzi HIV Walk
Entering one’s teen years is an anxious time for many as they grow up. For Rumbi it is a time that is stressful. The girl, now 18, is ready to date but hesitant to do so.
Many a girl of her age would have already be dating by this age. However, Rumbi’s situation is far more complicated than that of regular teenagers as she was born HIV positive and only got to know about in when she was 12.
“I was always getting sick and missed school a lot, so everyone in my family just assumed that it was traditional,” she said.
Rumbi said she only got to suspect that she could be HIV positive when she lost her mother.
Rumbi was not on medication for the first 12 years of her life despite suffering from a variety of opportunistic infections.
“When I tested HIV positive at 12 years I was immediately put on ART and my health started improving,” she said.
“I contracted tuberculosis on three occasions as a child and I was always underweight. So my slender built is as a result of poor health over the years,” she said.
Rumbi says she boys are always asking her out on dates for soccer, cricket, rugby matches and movies but she has had to turn them down.
“I have just started university and girls my age are now going out. I have had several guys at college asking me out but I inevitably bury my head in my books. I
just give them the excuse that as an orphan I need to go the extra mile,” she said.
She adds: “I do not go out looking for a guy to go out with. If God has taken me this far, He surely has a plan for me in the future. Right now the best I can do is to
do well in my studies and get a good job.
“I only have female friends because taking on any male friends would send the wrong signals A male friend can get close and end up thinking that I am interested in a relationship which is not the case.
“For that reason I have kept only female friends and I have not even disclosed my status to anyone of them. You can never know how one will react so for me it’s better that I keep my status to myself,” she said.
Rumbi, who looks like catwalk queen Naomi Campbell, also said she has turned down offers to strut the ramp, as this would affect her studies, too.
“Yes, modelling pays but for me my gateway to a good life is a good education. One can make lots of money in modelling but is not a lifetime career,” she said.
Rumbi said taking the modelling route would also expose her to stigma the moment she revealed her HIV status.
“You know that modelling is a cut-throat industry and the moment I disclose my HIV status I would be ruined, so why take something that has no security,” she asked.
There are many more adolescents who were born HIV positive and are now ready to settle down but find it difficult.
Society should be more receptive to people living with HIV and from there disclosure can be made easy.
Discrimination in communities we live is rife and often when people find out that one is HIV positive they can get cold or even tell you in the face that you are not welcome.
A woman, who is now aged 22, also faces a similar dilemma as Rumbi. She said she works as a teacher and has never dated.
“I have never dated for fear of rejection. I disclosed my status to my school head and was surprised that the whole staff room was awash with stories that I was of loose morals.
“I only disclosed to my headmaster since once a month I would need to report for duty late as I had to collect my medication from the local clinic. It was wise that I tell someone in authority just in case we went on a school trip and I collapsed since I am diabetic, they also had to know that I am HIV positive so I told them my health problems,” said the teacher.
The teacher said she regretted having told the headmaster because she was immediately dropped from he post as a netball trainer for no apparent reason.
“I love netball and hold a Class 2 coaching certificate. I have for the past three years taken my school to winning formula as we were the best school in the district for the Under-16 girls for two years,” she said.
The teacher said the headmaster did not give any justification to her :demotion” from netball team.
At times discrimination is silent but one can feel it.
“Discrimination is not something that one can touch, you feel it, you know the pain only when you have experienced it and I know this is the end of any chance of me rising in my field with such a headmaster.
“I was earmarked to be the head of the English Department since I hold a degree in English but that is now a thing of the past. Someone who holds a Diploma in Education was promoted ahead of me,” said the teacher.
Discrimination is also rife in family circles.
A decade ago an HIV positive person would have a cup/plate reserved for their use.
Cloudious, who is now aged 40, has weathered the discrimination storm and said at one time he even had blankets reserved for him.
“Ten years ago my own family reserved a plate, a cup and even a blanket and bucket for my use. It could be attributed to the lack of knowledge then but some people still experience the same discrimination today,” said Cloudious.
Now a member of a local support group in his community in Dzivaresekwa, Cloudious says: “I have since grown to know the limits of discrimination. I have joined a support group where people with similar interests converge,” he said.
Yamurai Support Group of Dzivaresekwa in Harare teaches its members acceptance, adherence, life skills in carpentry, baking, dressmaking and carpentry for no fee. They also raise HIV awareness in the community and the need for everyone to know their HIV status.
Cloudious said he now works as a full-time carpenter and is now able to look after his parents.
“My own mother, who 10 years ago reserved a plate for me, no longer does that. She now has great respect for me as I am now a breadwinner. This could also be from the awareness I have raised so they now know that I am not infectious by sharing plates with them,” he said.
Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world as they fight discrimination.