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Oct 12, 2018

A Message to Teenage Girls: From one to another

Babalwa & Anathi at an advocacy event in New York
Babalwa & Anathi at an advocacy event in New York

Anathi Mbono is the second of three children and the only girl in the family. Two years ago, her mother Babalwa, who had tested HIV-positive while pregnant with Anathi, disclosed her status to her. Babalwa was one of mothers2mothers (m2m) first clients and Mentor Mother. Thanks to the support provided by m2m, Anathi was born HIV-negative. Now, she is 15 years old and is in her first year of high school. Anathi actively spreads knowledge about health and HIV prevention among her peers.

We caught up with Anathi in Pretoria, South Africa where she lives with her family to find out what it’s like to be a teenager in South Africa nowadays.

 

What do you want the world to know about your life growing up in South Africa?

Being a teenager in general is hard. You are never sure whether you are a child or an adult. One moment you’re told you’re too young to make your own decisions and the next, you’re told you’re too old to not know what to do. It feels like we are always told what to do, and no one really asks us how we feel.

The challenges we face today are also different to the challenges our parents faced, so they often don’t know how to talk to us. It is even harder in South Africa and in the townships where opportunities are limited. We live in a time where HIV is affecting mostly young people, sometimes because of the choices we make and sometimes because of the choices our parents made.

Do you and your girl friends think about your health and how it impacts other parts of your lives?

We do. Many of us are responsible because we know that the choices we make set us up for the rest of our lives. Sadly, not all of us think like that. Some risk everything just to be happy now. And when I try to talk to them they think I am trying to be a ‘Miss Know-it-all’ and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Has your mum’s role as a mothers2mothers Mentor Mother Trainer shaped how you think about your role as a health advocate among your friends and the community?

My mother’s HIV status has made our relationship stronger and brought us closer together. I have two brothers so my mother is the one person I can confidently talk to about girl stuff. Her role as a Mentor Mother Trainer means that she’s very informed about HIV and other health issues and I can always rely on her whenever I need information about anything health-related.

My peers don’t have a lot of information about safe sex and our teachers are too embarrassed to talk openly about sex. That is why I took it upon myself to read my mother’s books and learn, so that I can spread that knowledge too. I also rely on her to be able to educate my friends – they know that my mother is always available to answer our questions.

How did your peers react when they found out your mum was HIV-positive?

I told two of my friends about my mother’s status after she disclosed to me. One of them told me that her mother was HIV-positive too and the other asked me to go to mothers2mothers with her to get tested. It was the right move. I was reassured that I was healthy, and I was also able to access free counseling there.

Other kids learned of my mother’s status online from an article of our time at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year. They started gossiping about me at school and that hurt me a lot. I spoke to my mother about it and got counseling on how to deal with the stigma. After that, I realised that their attitude was due to lack of information so I made it my business to educate them about HIV through the school drama group.

Their attitude has since changed – either because they know more about HIV or because what other people think doesn’t affect me anymore. I know who I am and I am not ashamed.

On International Day of the Girl, what would you like to say to other girls who may not realise how important their health is in reaching their dreams?

That it doesn’t matter who judges you or looks down on you because of what you have or do not have; what matters is what is inside of you. You have a choice: either pick yourself up after every small mistake and learn from them, or lose your dignity while trying to please the world. No one will respect you if you don’t respect yourself.

What would your message be to world leaders?

To not only focus on what we do wrong but help build us and our dreams. I want celebrities to show us their reality so that we can see that they also have challenges, that way we will not feel like failures when we do not reach our goals at certain ages but we will be inspired to keep trying, no matter how long it takes.

Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono with her daughter Anathi
Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono with her daughter Anathi

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Oct 4, 2017

Thank You For Your Support!

Thank you so much for your support of mothers2mothers' (m2m) adolescent project in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa! We have enjoyed sending you updates on this project over the past several months and hope you have enjoyed reading them.

We have shared the frightening statistics of HIV infection rates among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) and you have learned how m2m works to reduce HIV infections and HIV-related mortality and morbidity by employing Peer Mentors, young women who provide critical safer sex education and promote HIV counselling and testing among their AGYW peers. You have gotten to know a few of these Peer Mentors through project updates and I'd like to remind you of some of their most powerful quotes.

Amanda: "I like to be a Peer Mentor to help other young women to have someone to talk to who is their age."

Lumgile: "for the girls who are HIV positive, I teach them that they should have hope that there are more years and I give them support. And for those who are HIV negative, I teach them the importance to stay negative because we want to keep the new generation AIDS free."

Sanelisiwe: "my dream is to ensure that every single young woman out there achieves their dream." 

We have decided to deactivate the adolescent project to focus our attention on our main GlobalGiving project, Be the Generation to End Paediatric AIDS in Africa. Please be assured that the good work of these Peer Mentors will continue and that m2m's adolescent program will grow to provide even more AGYW in sub-Saharan Africa with age-appropriate, empathetic support.

Jul 10, 2017

Introducing Beauty

Beauty
Beauty

Happy summer from mothers2mothers (m2m)! Beauty, a Mentor Mother in South Africa, was just 17 years old when she learned of her HIV status. Stories like Beauty's are a reminder that m2m's adolescent programme, which provides education and support to adolescent girls and young women, is critical in the fight against HIV.

"I remember the day like it was yesterday, I was 17 at the time going home from school when I saw a mobile clinic and made my way towards it to get tested for HIV. When the results came back positive I was so terrified and shocked. I was scared because I was young and knew very little about the virus. All I knew was that it is a killer. People in my community incorrectly referred to HIV as AIDS and everyone knew that AIDS kills.

I didn’t tell anyone about my status, not even my mother or partner, because I feared rejection. I was so confused that I even refused to take the nurse’s advice to start treatment. I isolated myself from people, and would often prefer to lock myself in my room most of the time. I kept my status a secret until two years later when I became pregnant. A new fear emerged now; the fear of infecting my unborn baby was overwhelming.

However, I soon discovered there were women at the clinic who were ready to stand by my side and help me through these terrifying times. They were HIV-positive mothers, employed, trained, and empowered by m2m as Mentor Mothers.

Meeting the Mentor Mothers was a turning point in my life, I found a new hope. I am so grateful to the first Mentor Mother I met, her name is Irene, she and her fellow Mentor Mothers gave me advice and encouraged me take treatment and, most importantly, they helped me disclose my status to my mother and the father of my child.

Disclosing to my partner was more difficult and initially he did not take the news well. But with the help of the Mentor Mothers, I encouraged him to go test for HIV. He too was tested HIV positive. My mother on the other side was supportive, she told me that everything was going to be well.

Today I am very proud to say that I am a Mentor Mother and I work in the same clinic as Irene, the very first Mentor Mother that saw me. My life today is full of possibilities.

When adolescent girls arrive at the clinic, I make it a point to meet with them and give them support. I have to be a friend to them, because I know how I felt as a 17-year-old who had just tested positive. I was lonely and had no one, so I know it is not easy being HIV positive, and pregnant young person. You are scared to tell your parents because you are still a child yourself.

Now I am a mother of not one, but two children...both are HIV negative. The one I worried so much about is now four years old. I named her Ntokozo, which means 'happiness' in Xhosa. She likes to read, now she is learning to write her name. I think we have a teacher in the making here. In my second pregnancy I was not scared all at because I knew what to do to keep my baby HIV negative. My baby boy is nine months old and healthy. Both my children are healthy."

Thank you for your support of m2m's goal to reduce HIV infections and HIV-related mortality and morbidity among young women in sub-Saharan Africa.

 
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