THE MONSTER IS DEALING WITH MY COMMUNITY – HIV/AIDS
I am pressed but not crushed by this pain that is ceaselessly ailing my heart. The road seems to be rough, but I believe it means to strengthen me, not kill me. The pain of every woman in my community is my pain; I suffer when they suffer. Many times I fail to understand why on earth these people will have to go through this. I try to confront this challenge that pains and agonize my community to the point that life seems to unbearable.
I live in Selibe – Phikwe, a copper nickel mining town in the Central District of Botswana. Selibe – Phikwe remains the town with the highest HIV prevalence rate in our country, at 40% among women and 21.4% among men. Selibe- Phikwe is also rated number one in the country when it comes to people on antiretroviral drugs (ARV) and people being treated for the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT). The Selibe – Phikwe District Coordinator , Mr. Lameck Myengwa said a lot needs to be done to understand the factors contributing to the spiraling number of infections. There is a need for the town and the district to undertake serious research on this issue and he assures that the community has been funded to conduct a study/ research. He thinks the study will help confront this problem and that he does not know why Selibe – Phikwe is the hardest hit. I, however, cannot steer my mind away from the behavior and practices that my community embarks on.
I tell you, there is nothing I could blame our government for; the government has done its part and it is continuing to protect and give Batswana good health. I believe the problem is the fault of a generation of people who act as if do not know the purpose of their existence on Planet Earth. So much has been done to combat the disease, but still the stiff necked people will ignore the advice and swim in a poisonous virus. It is difficult to come up with effective interventions and the clinics have done much to fight this disease, but since the community’s behavior does not change, the monster still rests among men and women.
I have lived in this community ever since I was born. The noise from the cars, the noise from bars and drunkards, the noise from depots, the noise from shebeens sets the stage for this story about the people in my community. They drink like tomorrow they will be no more.
All different kinds of men are here, well paid, but some of them are illiterate. Since these people are well paid, money is not an issue to them. It is painful that these well paid men, they have luxurious cars and life is very enjoyable. Meanwhile, girls who have thrown away their school pen, seem to believe matriculation is a gate pass to living recklessly. They embark on drinking beer and smoking,socializing too much and forgetting even what they promised themselves in life. In the presence of the men, these girls become the victims of rape, early pregnancy, as well infection. Soon the very girl who was so beautiful will be like an old lady, looking more like a beggar on the streets. These girls tend to swallow before they chew and thus they get choked with the thorns of life leaving them helpless and poverty stricken.
Since the breakout of this disease life has never been the same. Three people walking in front of you, you must know that out of the three, two are infected, if not all of them; the odds are that grave. In the time before treatment and drugs arrived, this small town truly was faced with extinction. The disease destroyed so many lives. As a result of this disease the government is busy feeding and taking orphans to the schools. The disease took to both men and women. It is not a respecter of any person, but especially those who live recklessly will encounter the trauma of this monster. For those who are infected, life becomes a living hell once people discover your status. Discrimination commences, losing of friends and so many things oppress your soul. In many cases, once the victims discover that they are positive, they resort to hanging themselves or drinking poisonous substances. But with the help of life-saving ARV DRUGS, some people are able to win back their confidence, strength, and beauty.
In 2009, the town mayor was restless with the desire to save the community.As a way of combating the disease, he tirelessly approached every church in different places in town, appealing to them to help with how they can get rid of HIV/AIDS .In fact, his speech was more like a cry. Though his tears were not rolling down, I could see and feel them. The church vowed to tackle the scourge that has hit our mining town. Selibe-Phikwe Churches Committee Coordinator, Pastor Teemane, said in an interview that the only way to win the battle is to change the people’s behavior. According to him, they have set one month aside for prayers. He further mentioned that that they are aware of the fact that this town is leading when it comes to the HIV/AIDS infection across the country.
The behavior of people is so hard. You will feel like deserting them but you will come back to their aid again. All methods have been tried .One preacher even used the word ‘promiscuous’ to describe our people. From some vantage points, it appears to be a generation of people who are dedicated to the sin of immorality. Alcohol is abused and once drunk, most people become careless.
The president has tried to address this behavior at its root by increasing prices for beer, but still the more people will be hungry and thirsty for beer. He instituted a later hour for opening the bars, but as soon as they are open the game starts. As for the outcome after hours of drinking, I really can’t tell, it sores the heart. I have seen men praise beer, telling how their ancestors brewed, and it disgusts me. Some might criticize me with how I look at this, but in truth, it is not about beer drinking, but about the irresponsibility people show as a result. Posters have been erected to stop and reduce alcohol use, as well HIV/AIDS awareness billboards, but no one gives heed to all these. Instead, they make fun of them.
Although Botswana’s economic outlook remains strong, the devastation that HIV/AIDS has caused threatens to destroy the country’s future. For instance, in 2001, Botswana had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world, amounting to 350,000 of its 1.6 million people. Imagine this and youthe thread of distinction that we faced. I thank God our then President, President Mogae, appealed to the international community, and because of him, the International Donors launched an ambitious National Campaign enabling free ARV drugs to be given to all sick people in this country.
It is of great concern in my life, yet I believe I can do all things, regardless. There is still a way out. Botswana must make wellness its wealth. If this disease continues like this we are doomed, but I have a message. To all mothers in my country, we need to rise. We can start with our homes to deal with our young ones to be genuine mothers of tomorrow because women and children are the answer in every society. I will not tolerate a situation whereby I raise up a child the next thing she is all over me . Mothers, we need to empower our children, and especially our daughters. Therefore instead of criticizing our societies and fellow men, let us do what is good to change the bad we see.
Let us walk in the light of love. We should be known for our love, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or geographical location. Love that sees beyond HIV/AIDS and the stigma of those who are infected! Love that sees beyond hatred: even when we are hated, we should love. Love that sees beyond intimidation: even when we are intimidated, we should love. Love that sees beyond persecution. I wish to be my brother’s keeper, not my brother’s destroyer. Nothing happens by chance. In the course of my life, I have seen those who succeed and those who choose to fail, leading me to my belief that life is all about choice. I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread. Today, I choose to support my community; they are my pain for some of them are hopeless they do not know what the meaning of life.Confusion has taken control. The Virus has grieved them so much.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.