FAITH KALONGA: LEADING YOUTHS IN HIV/AIDS BATTLE

 

Faith-Kalonga

Tell me about yourself

I am a 30-year-old young woman living with HIV and a single mother to an 8-year-old child. I work as an administrative assistant at Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowlha). I come from Mulanje in Mtata Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mabuka from a family of five children. I am very interested in issues to do with the well-being of women, children and the youth.

 

How has been your childhood and education?

My upbringing was not ordinarily cheerful. I was born with HIV, but I did not know until 1999 when my father and sister died from the disease. I started my education at Ngumbe Primary School, Chileka in Blantyre. Then I went to Blantyre Girls Primary School. I did my secondary education at Dzuka Girls Secondary School and wrote my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2002.

While at school, I aspired to be a medical doctor and help improve the welfare and health of children. This was because I saw how my parents struggled to take care of us. I realised that not all parents were like mine and that there were some children out there who were suffering, but had no one to adequately look after them.  But because of some difficulties, a lot of things changed.

In 2003 I went to Blantyre School of Business where I studied computer programming. Because of my interest in children and women’s health, I got involved in small scale businesses such as opening a cosmetic shop and selling medicinal products. With my computer skills, I reached my customers through social networks such as Facebook and blogs. My interest grew after I learnt about Cowlha. I started as a member of the organisation’s focus groups. We (people living with HIV and Aids) would meet and discuss issues affecting us. Then I got employed at Cowlha where I was glad to get involved in a lot of projects regarding people affected by HIV and Aids.

 

Tell me about the National Association of young people living with HIV (Y+)

While working with Cowlha, I interacted with other organisations focussing on HIV and Aids such as the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and Aids (Manet+) and National Aids Commission (NAC). I realised that we needed our own group to open up and speak about the challenges we face since most of us (young people) were not able to express ourselves in these big organisations. We got together once in a while to discuss HIV and Aids related issues. That was in 2010.

Then in June 2013 at a Face-to-Face Summit of the UNAids and the Lancet Commission held at the Bingu Conference Centre in Lilongwe, former President Joyce Banda pointed out the need to establish the association after she heard inspirational speeches on life with HIV made by two of our friends in the meeting.  She asked NAC to facilitate the formation of the association through Manet+ as the secretariat for the formation process.

Thus on May 2 2014, government launched the organisation at T/A Kabudula in Lilongwe. Youths living with HIV from all the 28 districts were represented. There were at least six representatives from every district. We also had the opportunity to meet fellow young people living with HIV from other countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe who came to the launch because they are also members of Y+ in their countries. These fellow youths inspired and encouraged us to take an active role in the fight against HIV/Aids.

At the launch, an interim committee of 12 young Malawians was chosen, including me as the chairperson of the association. Other executive members are from different districts. However, we are now 11 after having lost one of the executive members recently.

The organisation gives a platform to the youth living with HIV to voice out their challenges and aspirations. We also aim to work with the youth across the nation on HIV and Aids issues since we believe that we are all affected and the Malawi youth constitute to over 50 percent of the country’s population.

 

Who funds you?

Funding is a huge problem. It is even harder now since registration of the organisation is still in process. We appreciate international and well established organisations such as Southern Africa Trust (SAT) which have been supporting us in various activities since the launch. Currently, we do not have our own offices. Our secretariat is at Manet + because we are not yet registered as an independent organisation.

 

Tell me about the talks you give?

I have been involved in public speaking which includes talks on HIV and Aids, family planning and other health issues since 2006. This was after I started participating in focus groups powered by Cowlha. I learnt a lot about living positively. I also realised that there are many young men and women in the country who would be inspired by such speeches, but could not be reached because of distance. Thus, I started reaching out to fellow youths and mobilise them to meet in groups in areas outside Lilongwe.  I still do this when I am not working and during weekends. However, I do not only reach out to young people living with HIV because I believe that we are all affected in one way or another. Thus, every young person needs to take part and help reduce the spread of the disease. I also advise young women about cervical cancer and its effects on the health of a woman. I have been to areas such as Chinsapo, areas 25, 23 and 36 to encourage young people. I also give the talks at my church, Living Waters, to groups of young people interested in such issues.

 

What role has your family and friends played in your life?

My parents and siblings have supported me a lot. I did not have a healthy childhood because of my status, but my parents made sure that I got all the support especially on my education.  However, I did not know about my status until 1999 when my sister and my father died. I realised a lot of things then and my life really took a sad turn. However, my mother and relatives were there for me and helped me until I completed my education. Friends and colleagues have also been with me throughout.

 

How do you spend your free time?

When I am not giving talks, I love listening to music, gospel songs in particular. I also like reading various books, including topics about women and children’s health.

 

Last words

Getting tested or telling people that you are HIV positive is frightening, especially for women and the youth who are more stigmatised than men with HIV. It really takes courage for a young person to go for voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). However, this is a choice one needs to make to be a good model to fellow young men and women. I thus, encourage young people to know their status and live positively. 

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