By Jeffrey Moyo
Many Zimbabwean HIV-positive youngsters face discrimination and stigmatisation on a daily basis. Evelyn Honde (16) is one of them.
For Evelyn Honde, who hails from the small town of Nyanga in Zimbabwe’s eastern Manicaland Province, being HIV-positive has rendered her an outcast at a boarding school where she is doing her Ordinary Level of education (also known as Form Four).
“Since the time I became open about my HIV status, life has never been the same in the face of discrimination against me by my schoolmates, and that really deeply pains me,” says Honde. “Because of my HIV status, I have lost many friends at school.”
The stats behind the face
Of the estimated 1.3 million Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS, percent are children. According to UNICEF, 240 000 children worldwide are annually infected with HIV. Transmission usually occurs via their mothers during pregnancy, during birth or through breastfeeding.
In addition, 670 000 young people between ages 15 and 24 were newly infected with HIV in 2013 – 250,000 of which were adolescents between ages 15 and 19.
Outcast at school
Despite the rampant stigma many teenagers like Honde are facing, Zimbabwean educators are adamant that they are working hard to raise HIV/AIDS awareness.
“Daily we teach pupils about HIV/AIDS and whether or not they accept what we teach them; what they do after is often out of our sight,” says a top educator in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons.
In 2006, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Education initiated – in conjunction with UNICEF – a training scheme for primary and secondary school teachers in HIV/AIDS life-skills and counselling, aimed at teaching pupils about HIV/AIDS.
Outcast at home
But for Honde the teachings may have come too late. Further complicating her situation, Honde said she lost her mother to AIDS four years ago, after her father had met a similar fate when she was six years old.
Now Honde is under the guardianship of her aunt, whose children she also claims discriminate against her.
“At home, where I now live with my aunt and her three children, I’m a further outcast, with my aunt’s children often openly refusing to share anything with me, fearing that I may transmit the disease to them,” says Honde.
Buying extra time
“What dominates my thinking often is the painful discrimination I face ahead of my academic pursuits,” Honde said. As a result her school work has suffered.
“In my class at school, a clique of students is now in the habit of calling me ‘Airtime’, in indirect reference to the antiretroviral tablets I take for treatment.” says Honde.
Airtime is a way of buying ‘extra time’ for your mobile phone.
Dice with death
Martia Gumbo (17), who is Honde’s classmate, is defiant about not wanting to endanger her life by associating with her HIV-positive schoolmates.
“Yes, we receive education on the dangers of HIV and really knowing that someone has the disease, why should I dare dice with death associating with him or her?” says Gumbo.