HIV-positive child dreams big

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Matheus Hamutenya

Keetmanshoop-Not only was she born HIV positive, but just about a year after her birth she lost her mother to AIDS, leaving her in the hands of family members.

Since then family members have taken care of Angela Vries (not her real name) and at 12 years old, the shy girl has grown albeit under very difficult circumstances.
When New Era visited her, she had gone to the neighbour’s house in search of food, but it was almost 19h00, which is the time she is supposed to take her antiretroviral (ARV) drugs daily.

She said there was no food at home, and it would be dangerous for her to take her pills on an empty stomach.

This is what compelled her to look for something to eat before she could take her HIV medication.

She took a minute to share her story with New Era, relating that sometimes when there is nothing at home she has no option but to run to the neighbours in search of food.

Angela emphasised that she has to stick to a healthy diet, and although her family always tries their best to provide, sometimes it is not enough or nutritious enough to meet her daily dietary needs.

Vries reminisced that when she was six a dog bit her, and only after she received treatment for the dog bite did doctors discover she was HIV positive, after which they put her on ARV treatment.

The shy girl pauses and pleads with the reporter not to write this, seemingly aware of the stigma that comes with being HIV positive.

“After the dog bite the doctor put me on pills called ARVs, but don’t write that, I don’t want people to know that I take pills,” she softly said.

As she became comfortable with the reporter, she said she did not know what ARVs are, and that her family did not want to explain to her why she has to take them daily.

Although seemingly shy to open up to strangers about her sickness, one of the neighbours told New Era that the teenager was just shy to talk directly about her status, noting that usually she is open about it.

The neighbour said growing up, Vries had always known about her sickness and her playmates would sometimes mock her about it.

Some family members call her the sick one, especially when they are angry with her.
“Usually she is open, maybe she is just afraid to be more open with you, but even when she plays with other children she tells them she didn’t look for the virus and that she was born with it,” a neighbour, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

Vries continued to tell the story of her hard school life, saying her fellow learners were not the friendliest of people, as they constantly bullied her.

“They say that I have sores on me and that I don’t look good, but I tell them to leave me alone with my sores, I’m alone at school; I don’t have a friend,” she says.

While her grandmother and aunts have taken care of her, she now stays with her sister, as her grandmother at the age of 93 is not in a state to look after her.

Conditions at home are not really conducive for her health as people are always fighting and quarrelling.

“Sometimes I don’t get enough sleep because people are fighting and quarrelling and this happens every day,” she explains.

But despite her daily hardships, the strong-hearted girl is eager to finish school, so she can take care of her family, and especially her grandmother who contributed so much to her upbringing.

“The only thing I want to do is pass my Grade 12 and get a job to support my grandmother and family,” she says.

Vries sadly noted that none of the people who stay at her house have a job, but she wants to change that one day so that her family doesn’t have to struggle in future. She added that she would like to work for one of the mines in the region.

“When I finish I want to work for Skorpion Zinc mine. It will be great working there,” she said.

Her grandmother although willing to talk was too frail to answer any questions.

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