So what would you like to know about me? I’m 21 and a 2nd-year student of Anthropology living in Cameroon. I’m the baby of the family with three brothers and one sister, and I lost my dad at a young age.
How I found out about my HIV status
When I was 16, I started showing symptoms of Tuberculosis. When we went to the hospital to run some tests, we discovered I had both TB and HIV. I didn’t find out right away, though. My uncle, who is my guardian, found out first. I was probably the last to know.
Would I have preferred to be told first? Not really. Because my family did not treat me any different and were very supportive.
And no, my siblings are HIV-negative. I did their tests myself.
It hurt. My first reaction was to cry. And the first question I asked the doctor was, “What will others say of me? Where am I going to say I got this?” I was a very shy girl.
So what changed?
There was this TV commercial that used to run when we were younger. You know, this young lady speaking to a young man and then another woman comes to him to tell him not to talk to her because she has HIV. I was very young then, but it stuck with me, and I always said, “But if she’s sick, she can be cured, right? So why treat her different” I didn’t know then that it was a life-long treatment. So I’ve never really had negative ideas about those living with HIV. Buts as you grow up, you realize that people don’t see things the way you do. This pushed me to become an adolescent champion and show people that HIV is not the end.
I remember a classmate once said that people living with HIV are demons. It really hurt.
Have you told any of your friends?
I have not yet found the courage. Or, to better put it, I haven’t found someone worthy enough to share this with, so no. Yes, I’ve had people I liked enough to date. But I always try to evaluate their level of understanding.
My thoughts on stigma and discrimination
A lot of young people negatively speak about HIV because they lack correct information. Religion also plays a role. For example, a Jehovah’s Witness friend could not accept her status because she said Jehovah wouldn’t permit it.
In the professional world, it exists too. For example, another friend wanted to join the Police, but the registration form said persons living with HIV aren’t allowed to register. There are police officers and military people who are already living with HIV; why deny someone else the chance?
How I became an adolescent Champion
Six months after I started treatment, I did peer educator training and began mentoring others. I help them follow up on their treatment and talk to the parents and caregivers.
Funny or inspiring last words
Until now, my sister thinks I’m joking when I tell her I have HIV. But that’s alright; I’ve found great love and support from the support team at my hospital.
I’d love to one day write a memoir on the experiences of the young people I’ve worked with. I’m currently working on it.
M is warm, playful and intelligent. What else is there to know about M?
It was an absolute joy to interview this bundle of positive energy over a phone call. We spoke in French, and I tried my best in the translation to capture the brightness of her spirit through these written words. I’ve fallen in love, and I hope the world does as well. I’d love to help her with her book and look forward to meeting her in person soon.
ABOUT THE YOUNGVOICES: ALOUD N’ ALLOWED CAMPAIGN
BodyTalk_Let’s TalkBody is one of four creators across Africa that joined The Access Challenge through the One By One 2030 to fight HIV stigma and promote SRHR knowledge in digital spaces in a fun and creative way starting 20th June 2022.
We aim to reduce the stigma around HIV and reproductive health by amplifying the voices of young Africans through digital spaces. J’s story is the first in a series of five stories young people we shall publish to show how stigma manifests.
Want to join the campaign? Download the digital toolkit to get started and find us on social media.
Read the first story in the campaign: