|“I found her there and she told me “little sister be a good girl, don’t follow what I did. Take care of yourself and be aware of HIV and AIDS. As you see me lying here it is because of HIV and AIDS.”|
My name is Tuwilika Heita, a 20-year-old woman from Namibia. I became interested in HIV and AIDS and youth issues while in high school. Since we did not have a life skills guidance teacher, nor did we receive education on sex or sexuality, the only place I could get involved in HIV and AIDS issues was in clubs and associations. I joined an AIDS awareness club and My Future Is My Choice (MFMC) as these provided the only chance for young people to talk about HIV and AIDS.
The AIDS awareness club was developed to empower and support high school students and was open to every interested student. This club established a management structure that included a facilitator. From the youth centre, we obtained books provided by the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture that were used for debates, games, discussions and other activities that mobilised and educated us on HIV prevention and care issues.
By the time I joined high school, I had already been affected by AIDS. My eldest sister died in 2002 from an AIDS-related illness. I was fifteen years old when she first started getting ill. It was a difficult time for our family; my parents were separated and unemployed. Our family of six, four girls and two boys was broken. My eldest sister was supporting my siblings and me by paying our school fees and meeting other personal daily needs.
I lived with my sister at the beginning of her illness. She started losing weight and getting sick, and it seemed that every week she would have to go to the hospital. Finally, she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. She was given many tablets, but the sickness kept increasing. We were very close then; she liked me a lot and was always there for me when I needed help in my schoolwork. Although we never discussed HIV or AIDS, I began to wonder if she had HIV. She had become pregnant the year before, but her child passed away when he was only two months old. Soon after, she was very sick and stopped working.
My other sisters lived with other family members, so I was the only girl around to take care of my sister. Once her health got worse, I started high school at a boarding school. Now, I could only make it home on weekends. When I was home, I always made sure that she ate healthy food and took her medication on time. I used to pray with her, sing spiritual inspiring songs, and show her how much she meant to me and how much I loved her. At the end of that year, I took her to our church and she gave her life to Jesus through me.
At the beginning of 2002, it was my final year in high school and I had to be at school studying most of the time. I had noticed that when my sister was alone, her health would deteriorate. I think that she would not eat well or take her tablets according to the doctor’s prescription. I hadn’t been to see her in two months when I got a message from a neighbour that I must come home immediately. My sister was in hospital and had been asking to see me. I found her there and she told me “little sister be a good girl, don’t follow what I did. Take care of yourself and be aware of HIV and AIDS. As you see me lying here it is because of HIV and AIDS. Don’t go into the world, stay with your Jesus in your heart and take care of my only son. I love you. Tell your other sisters I love them.” That was the day she passed away. I was very touched by her words even though, at the same time, I was very hurt by her death.
I had joined the AIDS awareness club and MFMC a year before. After her death, I was able to talk about her illness more comfortably thanks to the clubs I had been involved in. The AIDS awareness club encouraged everyone to participate. My other club members are my mentors, because through their ideas and advice during meetings and discussions, I have grown and developed as a young leader. In my final year of secondary school, I was selected as secretary of our club and my duties were to keep minutes and handle documents. I was also writing reports on our club activities for the youth newspaper. This is how I became comfortable and able to help others when they asked questions.
When I finished secondary school, I continued to be involved in HIV and AIDS issues. With friends from my church, we would go to hospitals and visit people who were living with HIV and give them hope. By giving hope for another day, showing love, and sharing scriptures with them, we helped to fight against discrimination.
Currently, I am volunteering with the National Youth Council of Namibia as an Assistant Editor of a local youth newspaper ‘Open Talk’. It is a 4-page bi-monthly youth newspaper supplement produced by four young Namibians. It is funded by UNICEF with support from the National Youth Council of Namibia. The features include informative articles; interviews on various issues that affect youth; and highlights from the programme, ‘My Future Is My Choice’ and the national HIV and AIDS campaign programme ‘Take Control’. I am responsible for managing, controlling and collecting data on HIV and AIDS, presenting programmes and assessing the distribution of the newspaper to different schools and organisations countrywide.
As a journalist for our newspaper, I also go to places where youth gather, interview them and take pictures for the newspaper. We have made arrangements to distribute the newspaper to all the schools that are far away from the capital city, Windhoek.
I am also a member of the YWCA of Namibia. Since July 2004, I have been facilitating workshops twice a week at different high schools. In these workshops we discuss how we can prevent HIV and AIDS infection, improve communication between young people and their parents, and improve our lives. The young people who attend our workshops gain skills and knowledge to educate others, and learn how to give back to the community. At the end of the workshop, everyone develops a positive attitude towards family life education, sharing knowledge on sex, sexuality and reproductive health issues, and on HIV and AIDS issues.
I also work with the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) to combat stigma and discrimination in our churches and to mobilise young people to use the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) centres to know their status. With the CCN, we educate pastors on issues of HIV and AIDS and encourage them to talk openly about it with their congregation. Churches need to get involved by supporting people who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. In Namibia, there have been some churches that prohibit their members from starting anti-retroviral treatment. We tell them that medication is needed; they have to allow people to go for treatment. People must be encouraged not to judge people who are HIV positive, instead we must give them hope. The Church has a responsibility and an important role to play in HIV and AIDS. Good morals and a change in behaviour are needed among young people in Namibia to curb the spread of HIV.
Since high school I have been committed to fighting against ignorance surrounding HIV and AIDS in Namibia. I have upheld my sister’s wish for my life by becoming active in my community.
To become an effective volunteer, I went through basic computer literacy, counselling and peer education at the YWCA and other centres. This training has equipped me for the activities I am currently involved in: designing the layout of Open Talk newspaper, responding to letters from young people countrywide regarding their problems, and facilitating peer counselling in schools.
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