CHAPTER 4: THE NAZARETH HOUSE SUPPORT GROUP FOR TEENAGERS WITH HIV
On the 26th of August 2008 a desperate mother came to the Clinic of Hope and Love of Nazareth House Johannesburg. She brought her very sick daughter Petronella, then 12 years old, with her. Petronella was only weighing 37,5 kilos and suffered from various opportunistic infections. After some talks Petronella’s mother gave her consent to have Petronella tested for HIV. Petronella turned out to be HIV+ and Sr. Sylvia put on ARV medication straight away.
Two months later Petronella’s mother Pretty got very ill with meningitis, was tested as well and turned out to be HIV+ as well. Her CD4 account was very low (only 121 CD4 cells) and she was put on ARV’s as well. Pretty did not allow Petronella to disclose her HIV status to her brother and sister who could have supported her emotionally and on top of that abused Petronella verbally and physically. Petronella became emotionally drained and stopped taking medication because she said she did not want to live anymore.
“Childline”was contacted with the request to help Petronella in her dire situation but they did not give help because they said their social worker had a back log. The psychologist Dr. Margaret, Dr.Lucy, Sr.Sylvia and social worker Sr. Benita decided that a support group for teenagers had to be established. This support group could serve as a platform for Petronella and other HIV+ teenagers to be counseled, advised and supported in issues affecting the daily lives of HIV+ teenagers. Sr. Sylvia and Sr. Benita agreed to run this support group on a monthly basis on their free Saturday with the help of Dr.Lucy the pediatric doctor and Margaret the psychologist.
The group started in October 2011 with 8 participants and has been an eye opener for Petronella and many other teenagers with HIV. After joining the support group for a season Petronella got convinced that adhering to the ARV regime is essential for a good health and Petronella is now even able to advise and coach other teenagers who still have difficulties to take their medication on a regular base. That does not mean it has been smooth sailing for Petronella the past years. In 2013 she developed weakness in the lower limbs due to starting and stopping her ARV treatment but fortunately the treatment had good results.
In 2014 Petronella’s mother Pretty was in prison for shoplifting but against all odds Petronella managed to write her matric exam and finished her secondary school with good results. Ricus found a sponsor in the Netherlands to pay a tertiary education for Petronella and Petronella has started a PR study at a Johannesburg high school. She has disclosed her HIV status to several friends at school and seems to accept her status.
In the meantime the Nazareth house teenage support group has grown to 28 members and the meetings are still held on a monthly basis. Transport and lunches are supported by International Christian Aids Network (ICAN) from the Netherlands. And the kids enjoy a yearly Christmas outing.
Some stories from other members of the teenage support group:
EUGENE NCUBE, 17 YEARS OLD
My name is Eugene Ncube and I am 17 years old. I hail from Bulawayo in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Beginning 2013 my father decided to come with me and my younger brother Evans to Johannesburg. In Zimbabwe 90% of the inhabitants are without a job and my father could not find work. So he decided to take us with him and come two Johannesburg. My father is also HIV+ and my younger brother Ivans (14 years old) as well.
My mother died in 2005, they told us it was from TB. When my mother died I was 7 years old and lived with my aunt for a while. She taught me how to cook. My father found a new partner but she has left some weeks ago. I don’t mind because I did not go on well with her. Now I cook for my father and younger brother. My mother was a highly trained person, she worked for the court. I think she has not gone in time for a TB and HIV test.
I am in grade 12 of the Mahlasedi high school and will do my matric this year. My dream is to study mechatronics and philosophy. I would like to learn how to make robots and I want to become a roboticist. To make this dream come true I need the luck to get a bursary for my studies and that is far from easy. I hope to further my studies at the University of Capetown.
I am a poet as well. My poet name is “Philosophisticater”. I learned that I was HIV+ in 2014 when my aunt brought me to the clinic of “Hope and Love”. As a poet I find it an advantage to be HIV+, it enables me to write poems about the real live. I am very happy that I can make Christmas beads for “Stop Aids Now” in the Netherlands. The bead money helps me to buy clothes and school books.
“Ride Along” – a poem by Philosophisticater:
Life flooded with tears, fears ate my courage.
Pain ravaged my soul, the I had to encourage my thoughts.
People never saw my heart weeping, they just saw my success creeping.
Then I had to leave my haters wishing.
Fell in love with my soul, crucified my pains and satisfied my happiness.
Eugene Aka; Philosophisticater.
GLADYS KHALA, 17 YEARS OLD
My name is Gladys Khala, I am from Malawi and I am 17 years old. I live with my aunt Patience Khala who is also HIV+, her husband Blessing and their two daughters of 8 and 4 years old. My father died when I was 7 years old, my mother died 3 years ago when I was 14. I think they both died of Aids related illnesses. Because I only have three older brothers who could not take care of me my aunt Patience, the sister of my late mother, has adopted me and taken me to Johannesburg.
I take ARV medication since 2008, in 2011 I was told that I am HIV+. In the beginning it was difficult for me to take my ARV medication in time, but lately it goes well because my telephone remembers me when I have to take my medication. When they told me I am HIV+ I already knew that I was HIV+ because I was already taking HIV medication three years and knew why I was taking the medication. I am enrolled on the Leondale High School and after a year I will write my matric examination.
I only told my best girlfriend at school that I am HIV+. She understands because she also has a brother who is HIV+. Since a few years I am member of the support group for HIV+ teenagers. This is a great help for me, I can discuss all my issues with the other members and the leaders of the group. I am not afraid to start a relationship. I am looking for a boyfriend who takes me for what I am. I am glad I have the chance to make beads. The proceeds help me to buy school books and stationery.