Photostory: by Tendayi and Cynthia Kureya; PANOS; SAFAIDS Zimbabwe.

Photography: Tendayi Kureya

I am Irene Musarapasi. I am 45 years old. I am a widow with three children. I have lived with HIV for more than ten years. I am now happy and content with my life, thanks to the support that I received from the Batsirai Group – a community initiative based in Chinhoyi, a small town about 100 kilometres from Harare the capital city of Zimbabwe.

Irene's Testimony 1

Being able to Live

When I was first diagnosed as having HIV, I was very sick. Field officers and trained volunteers from the Batsirai Group visited me at my home and counselled me. I will always cherish those moments. Through the Batsirai Group, I was provided with counselling and was put on Anti-Retroviral Therapy.

I have access to a private doctor, which is a special arrangement that is organised through Batsirai. This facility has been invaluable and has saved many people living with HIV, particularly during 2008 when the public health sector in Zimbabwe was in a state of collapse. Over the past 10 years I have been treated for various infections including pneumonia, TB and skin rashes under this arrangement.

The support I received from Batsirai gave me strength and motivation to join a support group. All 16 members of the support group (5 couples and 6 widows) are living with HIV. We are affiliated to New Life, another branch of Batsirai Group that provides professional counselling and education about positive living. The activities that we are doing as a support group include: sharing information, conducting home visits to ill members, garden projects, lending and investing the proceeds of our Income Generating Projects, conducting monthly meetings and inviting professionals to present special topics to the group.

Moving on

From my experience in Batsirai, I was able to assist in the formation of 10 support groups in Chinhoyi. This is one of my greatest achievements. I was trained by the Batsirai Group in management of an Ideal Support Group. Our work in the support groups contributes in the reduction of stigma that those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS have to endure. More people in Chinhoyi are now taking HIV tests. The infected are now able to disclose their HIV status without fear of discrimination and can access treatment.

I have been trained in low-input gardening, management of small income generating projects and internal savings and lending. I was provided with garden seeds which I used to start a small scale low input garden. I was able to utilise the knowledge I gained through Batsirai to improve my livelihood. I am able to use the revenue from the garden to look after my family. I would like to thank the organization for helping me realize my dream.

The the Batsirai OVC programme (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) I was assisted with educational support for my three children. My eldest child was supported up to university level where she studied medicine. She is now a practicing medical doctor in Swaziland. I am very proud and I feel I should tell my story to the world. I feel that had it not been for Batsirai Group, I would have died a long time ago. I urge everyone who is HIV positive and those who are not yet tested to seek appropriate support.

What it means

I have been mentored into a strong positive personality and I have a strong conviction to give back. I exercise this by participating in community HIV care and support activities. I was trained as a community based volunteer and I provide care and support to community members infected with HIV in Chikonohono, a high density suburb in Chinhoyi. I enjoy doing this because it affords me an opportunity to assist my fellow citizens who suffer from a condition I have good knowledge about because of my own personal experience. Since 2000 I have assisted more than 300 PLWHIV (People Living with HIV).

During home visits, I identify people needing care and I refer those not yet tested for HIV to Batsirai Group New Start Centre for testing. There, they will also get more information regarding ART and management of opportunistic infections. I offer education on how drugs such as Cotrimoxazole work and the importance of Adherence for people on ART to clients on treatment. I also disseminate information about TB – a very common problem among people living with HIV and AIDS. One of my most important tasks as a volunteer is to empower primary carers to be able take proper care of their loved ones at home.

I have also managed to assist more than fifty OVCs with psychosocial support. This entails counselling OVCs who have problems and referring them to relevant authorities including: Social Welfare, Justice for Children’s Trust for legal support, to the Registrar of Births and Deaths to obtain their birth certificates, to Batsirai and other organizations for financial support to cover school fees, uniforms and books. The number of children testing HIV positive is increasing and as volunteer I work with their guardians to ensure that they get access to treatment at clinics and other services from Batsirai Group.

The Challenges

The main challenges that I encounter are the inadequate resources available at hospitals. The CD4 machines and drugs at hospitals are not enough and the few machines that are available constantly break down and take long to be repaired. This is preventing many people from accessing ART. Doctors in this part of the country insist that a CD4 count must be done before anyone can being ART. Even those of us who have been on ART for some time are can’t tell the effectiveness of the treatment, since we too need a CD4 test. However, currently, the machine is reserved for new clients. It pains me to see people suffer simply because there are no machines to verify their immunity status.

I would like to acknowledge the financial support from Irish Aid which enables community based organisations like Batsirai to operate – without them many people would just perish for not only lack of treatment but also lack of knowledge.