I have met a man in Rowa. A man who has taught me endlessly about strength. His name does not matter, his title does not matter. His story does. In 2004, after suffering from chronic dermatitis, he decided to get tested and was confirmed as living with HIV.

When asked how he felt about his diagnosis he smiled, a small smile with hints of pain, but mostly he looked at peace. He then responded, for him the test result wasn’t a huge surprise. He had friends who were living with HIV, as a result he already had a lot of information and had come to terms with the virus, he knew what to expect and just had to adjust his life accordingly.

If you are ever lucky enough to meet this outstanding man, or indeed have already been fortunate enough to spend time with him, I doubt you would ever know that he is HIV positive. Forever smiling, forever helping, with the energy of ten young men. He spoke about how diagnosis has changed his life, he worried about the social stigma and voiced how he felt neglected by those who did not yet understand. It was as if the fear of the unknown had impacted on his relationships. He discussed how teaching is imperative, he said knowing the benefits of staying faithful to one’s partner, the importance of a balanced diet, nutritious food and the right information would benefit the entire community. In his eyes if he had been taught this earlier, he may have lived the last eleven years as HIV free. 

Conversations like these reiterate the importance of HIV awareness and the role it plays in preventing this disease from becoming an epidemic. If you can teach just one person about transmission, prevention or how you can live a normal life with HIV, the person you teach may then tell someone else. In turn the next person may double check a needle to make sure it’s clean, someone else could understand the importance of practicing safe sex, or be given the courage to get tested because they understand that living with HIV is perfectly feasible. 

Let us remember his words of encouragement, the words that are so permanently glued to the front of my mind: “People say those who are living with HIV cannot live, but you can live, and live, and live for years.” 

Written by ICS volunteer Jasmine Hope Coste