Youth Ahead tackling trauma attached to HIV/Aids
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