Who is Lebohang?
Lebohang is a 23 year old young mother who is HIV positive. Lebohang is a sister, a friend, God fearing woman and HIV activist.
When did you find out you were HIV positive?
I found out in 2009 on the 15th of August. I dated a guy who is well known. I only found out after reading an article he did speaking out on his status and saying he is sick. After reading the articles I did have a feeling I could be HIV positive but I was in denial. I ignored it and never tested because the media always show poor people with HIV and I didn’t think it could happen to me.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out you were HIV positive?
I never thought such existed. I was the type that thought HIV was for certain people and I had very little knowledge on it. When I got diagnosed I asked for another test, I was in denial, I did not believe it and I did not want to believe it at all.
After getting diagnosed how long did it take you to accept your status?
I got diagnosed with HIV in 2009 and I only accepted my status in November 2011. I was pregnant and I had to take ARVs since I had to protect my daughter. In early 2011 I went to some church and they prayed for me and I thought I’m fine and I went back to living my life drinking and partying. Since I was not looking sick I thought there was nothing wrong so I went back to living my life until I got very sick in August I and I came to the decision that HIV is real and it’s for you to move on for my family and daughter. It’s for me to accept it and live positively. I then joined a youth support group and I noticed that I wasn’t the only one living with HIV there were also some young people living with it.
Is your daughter HIV negative?
Yes she is negative.
Who did you disclose your status to?
When I went to get tested I was with the father of my child who is my ex boyfriend so he was the first to know. I then told my mother and sisters. I also then told whoever needed to know at the time.
How did your family receive the news?
The funny thing is they were all telling me to get tested because of the article that came out and because they knew I dated the person. They were not shocked but they hoped it wouldn’t be the case. My mum had looked after someone who was HIV positive before so it wasn’t entirely new to her even toughly she subtly wondered why it had to be me but they were supportive and they are also supportive even now.
You made a decision to disclose your status to the public, what made you decide to do this?
I was invited to go to Limpopo a province in South Africa to speak to orphans whose parents died in duty and whilst speaking to these kids they constantly asked questions on living with HIV and family members living with it so I thought sharing my story would educate other people. When you share your story in remote areas they don’t always believe you because there is a perception about HIV being something the poor people have. I also thought that this was my purpose and something I could do to share positive stories. When I went through what I went through I didn’t have people my age I could relate to and talk to so I thought I had a huge contribution to make.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learned being HIV positive?
I have learned that no one is superior to any disease and HIV is no exception. I also learned more about other people and their stories, whom to trust and not to trust. The most positive thing being that HIV is not a death sentence. There is life after HIV and even though I am HIV positive I am not defined by my status.
Please tell us more about the foundation you busy working on?
My foundation is Umzala Positive Foundation. HIV is Umzala wam’ (My friend) it’s not my enemy. After a bit of research I noticed that most NPO’s that deal with HIV related issues are founded by older people and most young people are scared of approaching them because they scared of being judged, things I also went through. The youth cant related to the older generation so I want this organization to be for the youth. I want this organization to be for the youth because I am also part of that demographic so I know what they going through. I also want to groom those who are HIV positive to get to a point where they can look at life positively. In relation to children born with HIV no one is paying attention to them and I would like to instil the ideology that they did not sin and it’s not their fault that they born with HIV. I want to encourage children born with HIV to embrace life. I also want to start peer educator groups in high schools. In conclusion I foresee young people actively involved in raising awareness around HIV.
What are your thoughts on the HIV cure that is being anticipated?
I always tell people that there already is a cure. For me a person’s cure is their mind. Once you take your medication and live your life positively then you will be fine and you have already cured yourself. Scientifically I think they are positive stories to tell and I think we should expect the cure sooner than anticipated.
Who do you look up to for inspiration and why?
I look up to Criselda Kananda from Metro FM. She came out when being HIV positive was almost like a death sentence. She took a stand to represent HIV positive people and she fought for where and what we have today. The other person I look up to is Nkosi Johnson, such an inspiration. I always say I am finishing off from where he left off, he was fighting for people to access ARVs, I am fighting for people to not get infected.
What massage do you have for youth infected or affected by HIV and those afraid of knowing their status?
I always say the best way to overcome you fears or problems is to learn more about it. I feel that if you can’t wait to get married to have sex , please use a condom and don’t base your decision on someone’s physical attributes or financial status. If you are a girl it’s ok to buy and have condoms. If you like partying and going out always carry condoms with you. Both guys and women can be unfaithful and you can never really know what your partner gets up to in your absence so “BE SAFE! If you can’t stand condoms then ABSTAIN!”
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