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World AIDS Day: providing practical support


AIDS counsellor, Mthatha, South Africa

Zanana may only be 26 years old, but she has already learned more about life than some people many years older. Zanana is HIV-positive, out of work, and shunned by others around her. Despite this, she is embracing life as a volunteer counsellor at the SOS Social Centre in Mthatha, South Africa, which operates from the local SOS Children's Village. "For me, being HIV-positive and living a positive life go hand in hand," she said.

Zanana holds support group meetings for more than 30 people from the Mthatha community every week for two or three hours. HIV-positive people come together in an environment of acceptance to discuss their problems, challenges and fears. "When I was diagnosed at the clinic I didn't know what to do or what it was all about. I didn't believe I was HIV-positive because I didn't feel sick. Now I know that you can be healthy and still have the disease," said one member. The group meetings are a place where members receive advice on issues such as grant applications. "Some people can wait up to two years before they receive any financial assistance from their applications," added Zanana.

SOS volunteers tackling HIV/AIDS, Mthatha, South Africa

The groups also discuss issues such as how to bring up children and help them deal with the possibility of losing a parent, dealing with and attending funerals, learning to live a positive life as well as practical advice on coping with the physical effects of the disease.

"When my family found out I was HIV-positive, they bought me my own spoon and dish so that my things would not mix with theirs. I am now stigmatised and isolated, together with my eight-year-old daughter," recalled one member of the group. Another said, "My family is only interested in me when I have money. Otherwise, they don't want me."

Zanana believes the group support and counselling at the SOS Social Centre is having a very positive effect on these peoples' lives. "Because of this stigmatisation, some of the members do not want to disclose their HIV-positive status to their families. The group can help them with this. We tell them that no one is alone. We are all HIV-positive so we can all help each other."

Some of the group's members live many kilometres from the SOS Children's Village, but they try not to miss a meeting. "Transport for some of our members is a problem. Sometimes they will walk for an hour or more just to get to the meeting," said Zanana, who, together with SOS nurse Olive, often venture out on home visits. They visit sick members at their homes to wash and feed them. As part of her volunteer work Zanana also conducts HIV/AIDS education/information sessions with SOS children, youth, mothers and teachers. She also travels to hospitals and clinics, where she shares her positive message.

Takling AIDS in Africa

The SOS Social Centre in Mthatha is just one of many hundreds of projects supporting families and communities affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Read more about SOS Children's work tackling HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Relevant Countries: South Africa.

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