Personal Stories of Changed Lives

“The people who don’t have knowledge will die”

“The people who don’t have knowledge will die” is a commonly used expression in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho to make people aware of HIV/AIDS and the necessity to have themselves tested. The importance of getting tested is now even more vital because people can now live with the help of freely available medicines.

On 1st December 2011, Family Fun Days were once again held at Paballong. Many families were attracted to these organized events. They were offered education about the disease and offered the possibility to have themselves counselled and tested for HIV. Four local village people addressed the public by sharing their personal stories on how they got affected with HIV and how it changed their lives. Amazingly enough all four people found the strength to turn the devastating outcome of the test into a positive mindset and become local teachers on HIV/AIDS within their communities.

Three people were prepared to share their personal stories with Nthabiseng Lohman, who has prepared the following interview reports:

‘Me Mathamae Mabetha* is a mother of 5 and a grandmother who found out about her status in 2008. She did become ill, but chose, out of free will, to have herself tested after hearing about HIV/AIDS on the radio. She decided to be frank and open with her family and friends. Much to her surprise she was relieved to find that those around her responded in an understanding manner. She comes to Paballong punctually in order to receive her medicine. She now encourages others to have themselves tested before becoming ill. She uses her own experience to emphasize the urgency of the matter. It is her personal wish to have Paballong expanded and follow-ups provided for the people who do not succeed in coming to the Centre regularly.

Ntate Moribe Selatane* is a young married man and father of one child. He found out about his status in 2008 as well. In contrast to ‘Me Mathamae, he was ill. His family urged him to see a doctor. Eventually he came to Paballong and was tested. He too was confronted with the unfortunate outcome and was given medicine. He was relieved to have found out the cause of what made him ill. Now he was finally able to take the right measures. He is very grateful for the easy access to medicine, the counselling, and the education on HIV/AIDS provided by the Centre. His character (way of living based on his culture) has changed as well as his diet. He is no longer reluctant to use condoms and persuades his peers to do the same. He has lost a few friends who were, ‘too careless’ as he says, to take full responsibility for their illness. Due to his openness, people from his community will now consult him on the matter. He wants his fellow villagers to look at HIV/AIDS as a chronic illness and treat it as such. Ntate Moribe says it has added meaning and wisdom to his life now that he is able to help others. He will continue to teach for as long as necessary.

Ntate Lebohang Matekane* is an older married man who tested positive in 2009. He went to the doctor for painful feet. He could hardly walk. As he was treated for his feet, the doctor also tested him for HIV/AIDS. Last year he was diagnosed with diabetes as well. He was hospitalized for a few weeks. Ever since, he feels fine and claims to be satisfied with the fact that he no longer feels ill and weak. It has convinced him to take his medicine faithfully. He too has changed his diet and way of life. He is concerned about the habits of people which may contribute to the transmission of the disease. For example; it is a tradition to insert certain medicine by making a clean cut in the arm. ‘This blade is shared by the whole family’, he says. He now insists on each individual having his/her own blades. The appropriate use of condoms needs to become more the norm rather than optional. There are 280,000 people infected with HIV in a population of 1.8 million people! 60 people get infected by HIV every day and 50 people die each day of AIDS related diseases! ‘It is time for Basotho to take responsibility’ he explains. ‘Multiple sex partners should become taboo, drug abuse should stop and our cultural beliefs need to change’. ‘It will take time’. He is realistic but positive. He is happy about PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) and hopes more centres like Paballong will open their doors in the future.

These three people wished that Lesotho become an HIV free nation. They claimed that each and every person should know his/her status. They hope that in the future there will be a law that requires people to do so. They believe that Lesotho has reached a point in time where people can no longer be careless and no longer be ignorant. Education and counselling must continue. After all “The people who don’t have knowledge will die”.

Due to their courageous behaviour in accepting AIDS/HIV and dealing with it accordingly, they have now become teachers and set examples for their families, friends and fellow villagers. They are no longer afraid to engage with others and talk about HIV awareness. ‘We should trust God in everything that we are doing here, we will continue to teach at our villages and never stop doing so’.

Note *: not their real names