According to the world health organization, by the end of 2020, there were an average of 37.7 million people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Of those people estimated to have HIV, over 25.4 million were from the African region.

Today I had the privilege to chat with a 26 years young black woman from South Africa with a burning drive to raise awareness on HIV through her journey and experience living with HIV. By sharing her story, this young woman believes even if she instils hope, inspiration, healing, courage, motivation, or raises awareness to one person, it would be worthwhile.

For personal reasons, she advised that she wanted to remain anonymous.

This 26-year-old woman is one of the many women I have only met through short telephonic interviews. However, she exudes a greater length of connection as we have met long before. From the first exchange of words through our WhatsApp chat, I could already feel that she is a woman of substance and multi-talents.

Here are some of the first questions I asked her:

What is one of the things you can say you are most proud of?

“Believing in myself. This confidence that I have made a difference for me time and again. Through all the challenges that I’ve experienced in my life, I have remained stronger and wiser.”

As a firm believer, she also explained that she continually extends her gratitude to the almighty God for guiding her and keeping her strong in her most difficult times. She added, “I wouldn’t have overcome my problems if it wasn’t for him. Every day I always think that if it wasn’t for God, where would I be. When I think how much Jesus loves me, it always gives me that courage and confidence to believe in myself and keep going no matter what.”

What is one challenge you’ve faced that changed your life? And how did you overcome that challenge?

The challenge that I’ve faced is when I found out that I’m HIV positive. It was 2019. At first, it never really clicked. I was writing my final exams for my second year at Vhembe Tvet college when I tested positive for HIV, and I was writing my final exams.

It all felt surreal and unbelievable, but the moment I got home from the clinic, it all began to register in my mind that it was happening. I still remember when I called my mom telling her that I’m HIV positive, she was heartbroken, and there was this thing in my mind saying oops, girl, you’re sick, so people will know your status very soon. It broke me. I even lost weight because of overthinking and stress, but my mom was there for me through it all. She kept telling me that nothing had changed and that she still loved me just as I am.

My mom has been the greatest support, and I am more than grateful for her. When it had all sunk in, my mom advised me to start treatment while it was still early. That is when I began to have the strength and courage to seek medical attention. After all, nothing had changed except that I now have a random virus inside me. So I went to a clinic, got counselling, and immediately started my treatment.

As we speak now, I’m healthy, taking my medication every day, and always praying that this virus does not take my happiness and confidence away. God, he’s in control of everything, and I always pray that he gives me a partner who will love me as I am without judgment.

I think the one thing that helped me overcome was acceptance. By accepting that nothing had changed and inviting God to be a part of my life’s journey, everything became easier to deal with. Furthermore, I overcame this by loving myself and following all the precautions needed to maintain my health.

What advice or message would you give to someone who might be going through the same experiences?

The advice that I would like to give to someone is that – killing yourself because you have found out that you’re HIV is not an option. Love yourself, and don’t ever think down of yourself. If you follow all the precautions you got at the clinic, you will experience the best life. Love yourself before other people tell you how they feel about you, and always pray so that God can guide you and protect you.

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