Youth Ahead tack­ling trauma at­tached to HIV/Aids

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature - Fea­ture Crys­ta­bel Chikayi

HE stands rooted on the ground like a zom­bie, cough­ing his lungs out at the Sizinda Sports Gala ter­races in Bu­l­awayo as his age-mates from his neigh­bour­hood play. Mr Ja­cob Tshuma (24) is un­well while ev­ery­one else around him is mak­ing merry or play­ing soc­cer. He leans lazily on a pole that sup­ports a shed and re­mains like that for some time as if glued to it.

Ap­pre­hen­sion is writ­ten all over his face; he is to­tally con­sumed in his own thoughts. The man’s con­science is on trial.

“I can­not help but blame my­self. Who, among my many girl­friends brought such dark­ness into my life? If only I could get a chance to start all over again,” said Mr Tshuma (not his real name).

It is ap­par­ent some­thing is eat­ing his thoughts. Not only that, some­thing is eat­ing at his health too. The con­tin­u­ous cough­ing, lazy body posture and a lousy step con­firm Mr Tshuma is ill.

“Like the bib­li­cal Job I curse the day I was born. I re­gret en­gag­ing in sex with a lot of women in the name of fun. But I guess life is what you make it.

‘‘This is what hap­pened to me when I strayed from chasing my dreams,” said Mr Tshuma.

He wanted to be a pro­fes­sional soc­cer player but he was be­gin­ning to give up on life.

Mr Tshuma told him­self only death could save him from the pain and an­guish of liv­ing with HIV/Aids.

He was be­gin­ning to shun peo­ple as a re­sult of his con­di­tion, in­clud­ing his own aunt and guardian, Mrs No­ma­langa Mpala, who lives with him.

“It can never be easy tak­ing care of some­one who has given up on his own life, worse still if you do not know what is both­er­ing the per­son.

‘‘Ja­cob is my re­spon­si­bil­ity, my late brother’s only son.

‘‘I never gave up on him even when I knew he erred. He was once a vi­brant soc­cer player but he had de­te­ri­o­rated to a level of drag­ging him­self like an old man,” said Mrs Mpala.

“I knew some­thing was killing my Ja­cob, but he did not want to talk about it.

‘‘The best I could do was to pro­vide all the healthy food for him. I brewed ma­heu, cooked dried veg­eta­bles for him but he hardly ate.”

Salvation fi­nally came in the form of an Aids ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment group (AEDG) named Youth Ahead, an HIV/Aids ac­tion group based in Bu­l­awayo.

Youth Ahead mem­bers were on a cam­paign pro­gramme at Sizinda Sports Gala re­cently when they bumped into a weary Mr Tshuma lean­ing on the pole.

The Youth Ahead team was preach­ing the “get tested, don’t be neg­a­tive about be­ing pos­i­tive” gospel when they ap­proached him.

“The Youth Ahead team helped us so much. I do not know what ex­actly they told Ja­cob but he took them se­ri­ously.

‘‘He con­fessed that he is HIV pos­i­tive and they had al­ready told him to go to a near­est clinic for med­i­ca­tion and to talk about it to his guardian so he could get coun­selling. Doc­tors said he had iron de­fi­ciency and treated him,” said Mrs Mpala.

She says Youth Ahead helped her nephew so much. Six months after meet­ing the team, Mr Tshuma is well and fit with no sign that he is liv­ing with HIV.

Youth Ahead was founded in Au­gust 2012 by peer ed­u­ca­tors at Sizinda Youth Cen­tre. The found­ing lead­ers are Mr Ever­son Phiri and Mr Chal­ton Vusa Moyo.

The two re­cruited other youths from the Sizin­daTsha­bal­ala area and the group now has over 15 mem­bers. Six of the mem­bers form the group’s ex­ec­u­tive. Mr Phiri, a youth, says they formed the club with the in­ten­tion of help­ing the youth com­mu­nity fight HIV/Aids and sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases through cre­at­ing aware­ness and coun­selling, among other is­sues.

“I had the youth in mind when I formed the club. My de­sire is to teach my peers on sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases. I had iden­ti­fied a prob­lem and re­alised it was pos­si­ble for me to make a dif­fer­ence in the so­ci­ety,” said Mr Phiri.

He says he was in­spired by his brother Mr Car­los Ngozi to be a peer ed­u­ca­tor.

“I was in­spired by my brother, a peer ed­u­ca­tor, who al­ways wore his group’s t-shirts. I also wanted to wear them. So he took me with him to the youth cen­tre and I learnt that they al­ways did char­ity work help­ing keep the com­mu­nity clean.

‘‘This in­flu­enced me to as­pire to make a dif­fer­ence too. So in try­ing to get these t-shirts I learnt the art of help­ing oth­ers,” said Mr Phiri.

Mr Moyo says Youth Ahead has a vi­sion to im­prove the qual­ity of and re­spect for life among the youths in com­mu­ni­ties. He says they em­power youth through in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion and talk shows.

“We look for­ward to mak­ing our vi­sion and goal achiev­able by im­ple­ment­ing more talk show pro­grammes and aware­ness cam­paigns, among other such ini­tia­tives that en­rich and em­power youths.

‘‘It is our hope to help youth de­vel­op­ment through main­tain­ing good health, sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health and en­vi­ron­men­tal care,” said Mr Moyo.

Youth Ahead, he said, is work­ing closely with key or­gan­i­sa­tions like Na­tional Aids Coun­cil (Nac), Com­mu­nity Work­ing Group on Health (CWGH), Ro­taract, Khaya Arts and Dot Youth Zim­babwe which fre­quently at­tend the group’s var­i­ous func­tions.

Mr Moyo said: “We are work­ing on zero per­cent bud­get, we do­nate funds our­selves, if need be. We are not re­ally re­ly­ing on the men­tioned or­gan­i­sa­tions for fund­ing. They only help us dis­sem­i­nate the right in­for­ma­tion to the peo­ple dur­ing the talk shows we host.”

Dis­trict Aids Co­or­di­na­tor for Nku­lumane, Mrs Si­man­gal­iso Moyo, ap­plauded the Youth Ahead lead­er­ship for part­ner­ing Nac in curb­ing the HIV/ Aids preva­lence rate.

She says Mr Phiri is pas­sion­ate in the fight to bring HIV/Aids new cases to zero lev­els as ev­i­denced by his be­ing a mem­ber of the Young Life Net­work that is led by Nac.

“Youth Ahead op­er­ates at dis­trict level so it does not source in funds from Nac be­cause Nac does not fund or­gan­i­sa­tions which op­er­ate at dis­trict level.

‘‘When­ever we host func­tions which in­volve all the or­gan­i­sa­tions we part­ner with, Youth Ahead also par­tic­i­pates and when they have their own pro­grammes they in­vite us,” said Mrs Moyo.

Nac has a 90-90-90 pol­icy which states that by 2030 90 per­cent of peo­ple with HIV should know their sta­tus, 90 per­cent to be on An­tiRetro­vi­ral Treat­ment such that 90 per­cent will be vi­rally sup­pressed.

For its part, Youth Ahead as Nac’s part­ner, moved around en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to get tested.

Youth Ahead also vis­its sec­ondary schools and im­parts life skills to stu­dents as well as ed­u­cat­ing them on STDs and sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health and rights. They also en­cour­age the for­ma­tion of Aids clubs in col­leges as well.

“So far we have been able to ini­ti­ate and con­tinue to en­cour­age Aids clubs at Ih­lathi and Agape Col­lege in Nketa 7. We are hop­ing to do the same in many other schools which are in and around Bu­l­awayo. We are a Bu­l­away­obased or­gan­i­sa­tion at the mo­ment,” said Mr Phiri.

Youth Ahead is also driv­ing a can­cer aware­ness cam­paign aimed at sen­si­tis­ing peo­ple in the com­mu­nity about can­cer, its causes, symp­toms, dan­gers, pos­si­ble cure and pre­ven­tion.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has been com­mem­o­rat­ing the World Can­cer Day re­li­giously ev­ery year since 2012.

Youth Ahead also makes use of so­cial me­dia and the in­ter­net for on­line cam­paigns.

Mr Phiri said: “Each mem­ber cre­ates broad­cast lists on What­sapp with at least 250 peo­ple then tips are broad­casted each morn­ing to mo­ti­vate peo­ple. This helps us reach out to many peo­ple in dif­fer­ent places.”

One on­line cam­paign that Youth Ahead ini­ti­ated is Oral Health Day cam­paign whereby they send posts on Facebook en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to brush their teeth and to stay healthy.

“Mr Phiri sends me life tips ev­ery morn­ing. With the coun­selling and knowl­edge I get from the or­gan­i­sa­tion I have learnt not to look at the clock but to do what it does, that is, keep go­ing.’’

Youth Ahead mem­bers at a train­ing work­shop

Five of the mem­bers of the Bu­l­awayo based NGO Youth Ahead

Mr Ever­son Phiri, one of the found­ing lead­ers of Youth Ahead

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