Thokozile Nkhoma: Beyond the gutters, pain and loss

“I was one of the children who were born with a silver spoon. However, that pride and glory did not last; it was only lived 12 years of my life until the day he died in 1997.”

“He was the breadwinner of the family. His loss meant a lot of hardships, especially for my mother who strived to provide for four children at a time she did not even have a job.

It is worth mentioning that I had a very strong mother who sacrificed her career to raise a good family. I lost my father to Aids and Tuberculosis (TB).”

“Later on, I lost both my brother and mother in 2008 and 2012 respectively to the same ailment.”

“Growing up without a father meant losing a sense of security and dreams.”

“My education was not easy. I had a lot of interruptions in my school attendance; at times I was sent back for failure to complete school term fees over three times in a term.

“There were times I had to support my mother’s small-scale vegetable garden and poultry, before going to school to afford transport costs just to attend half of the days’ lessons.”

An early ambassador for the “Here I am campaign”, Thokozile Nkhoma narrates her ordeal and involvement in the fight against HIV and Aids.

Here I Am was a global campaign to support the replenishment of the Global fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria.

Malawi is a beneficiary of the fund as such, the significance of the campaign to Malawi cannot be over emphasised.

“The impact of HIV and Aids has left a big hole in the lives of many, including my family. Malawi lost a lot of people and left a huge number of orphans.

“I know what if feels like and I survived the hard way- having had to take care of my family members from a tender age,” she says

Her experiences motivated her to join the response and ensure no girl or orphan lives to experience the effects of these two diseases.

Rising above the loss of her loved one’s is the hardest feat she endured, when giving up education would have been easier.

Her knitted motivation, after seeing her father’s battle against Aids and his eventual death, she says there was no way she could do nothing.

“My father’s journey inspired me so much that every time I’m down, I look back and say, okay, this is why I have to stand up and move on,” she says.

With the campaign, Nkhoma adds that the majority of people reached were politicians within donor capitals.

She joined the Here I Am campaign when she was 27 years old, however she says in recent years, the paradigm has been shifted towards pushing domestic resource mobilisation for sustainable national health programmes.

Today at 34, Nkhoma directs facilitators of community transformation (Fact), an organisation she established in 2012 which works towards ensuring the marginalised populations of children, women, girls, youths and the undeserved.

She is an advocate, a researcher, values the interconnectivity with people and a capacity builder.

To this end it was not sweets and biscuits.

Nkhoma says: “There are challenges I encountered when I was still in school. Financial problems to help my mother.”

In addition to the poultry, her mother ran a tomato business. Through that, they mobilised resources for her school fees and households needs.

But it was her mother’s best friend who came to their rescue- she owned a school and decided to support her by giving her a free secondary school education.

In 2003, she joined Chancellor College and later withdrew due to family support matters. She got a job afterwards.

It was only in 2011 that she joined the University of South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies.

And later, she graduated with a certificate in leadership from the Multi Media University of Kenya and a Diploma in Business Administration (ABE).

Finally, she got a certificate in early childhood development through Action Aid.

Globally, Nkhoma works with TB People International as an interim focal point for Africa and with the Africa Coalition on TB.

She coordinates the constituency of TB affected people within the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board together with her colleague from Uzbekistan.

Her organisation: Fact, holds a national civil society platform for interaction, sharing experiences and establishing initiatives to end TB within communities.

She is also a civil society adviser on the World Health Oganisation (WHO)’s civil society engagement mechanism, particularly with focus on the Universal Health Coverage 2030 agenda.

She strongly believes in raising awareness and interacts with members of Parliamentary TB Caucus and the National TB Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Network.

She works with 10 clubs of adolescent women and young girls in Lilongwe and Salima districts, conducting sexual, reproductive health and rights sessions.

Her drive is to contribute to the achievement of a world that is equitably developed, with just societies, free from poverty and preventable human suffering.

“We have buried our heads in the sand and forgot the pain and suffering still being experienced. My passion will cease when we attain elimination of the three diseases that bring grief in the lives of people and break families.

To successfully defeat the diseases, we need to focus on closing the tap on new infections.

“With TB, ensuring that the missing cases are found; an area, yet, to be overcome, is crucial.  The more people we have who are not put on treatment the higher risk of new infections within the communities,” she highlights.

She adds that funding and making masses aware of getting screened and treated for TB earlier, to cut the infection chain within the communities are paramount.

Nkhoma says Malawi’s high cases of teenage pregnancies, shows that young people are more often engaged in unprotected sex.

Worst still, she adds Malawi is over dependent on donors to support disease programmes while the trend in external financing is decreasing.

 “Let’s get tested to know our status. Let’s be champions to end TB and HIV, a successful future begins with a healthy life,” says Nkhoma.

Looking at her life’s experiences, it’s a wonder how she got to the global, national and community ring steering the wheels of health.

Her journey in her work became cemented with the Malawi Interfaith Aids Association (Miaa), a place she believes gave her a breakthrough, during the Save Campaign where they hosted the first ever international faith-based conference, attracting over 3 000 local and international delegates at Bingu International Conference Centre (Bicc) in 2012. She worked with Miaa for two years.

Through this event, she recounts meeting very influential people working in her field.

“My meeting with Stop TB Partnership opened all the doors to the world,” she observes.

But this success did not come easy either. She had to work extra hard and sleep less.

Counting a great influence and pillar of what she is and has become, her husband Ignascio Nkhoma, she says, because she got promoted and positioned at all levels, working extra times when you are married is a challenge.

She says her husband has been there to support her.

Nkhoma says of all the hurdles, living without her mother has been the most painful experience. However, she died when she had gotten married.

“I still miss the best friend I found in her, but I believe her life was well lived and I celebrate the fact that she is happy and we, her children, did not disappoint her wishes despite the fact the odds were far from possibility,” she says.

Work related challenges she meets, are gender related, as a woman in a leadership role, there is some level of gender discrimination and demeanor.

Her word to the nation is: “Talk about how to grow internal mechanisms of generating fundamental resources to self- sustain our educational, health and broader national development needs.

“Have strong political will that will not only initiate these efforts, but strengthen and close the loopholes on abuse of the resources, we have as a nation be it within the hospital setting, police, civil service in general, private sector and NGOs

“Be citizens who are stewards of progress; have a culture of discipline, which begins with leaders in our midst that communicates and walks the talk on these virtues and those leaders are all of us.” n

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