Zimbabwe: Angeline Kasipo

Date: August 30, 2019
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I am a trained social worker and had always been passionate about children and young people’s issues. I helped to form Kwekwe HIV/AIDS Action Group with a group of friends in the early 1990s. By then I was working for the government department of Social Services in Kwekwe. Unfortunately the action group disintegrated when most of the group members moved away. I went to England in 2000 and worked with children and families. While I was abroad my young sister died from HIV/AIDS related illnesses. She had been depressed and bewildered and had felt that no one really understood what she was going through. I came back home in 2010, and I started working with Tinevimbo Support Group, a support group for young people living with HIV/AIDS in Kwekwe in 2011. The group had been set up earlier by the Medical Superintendent of Kwekwe General Hospital but there were no social workers. I worked with the young people away from the hospital environment and I mostly used my own resources. The young people came to my place of residence once a month and we engaged in activities geared to offer psychosocial support.

My mission was to help these young people, including girl children to understand their condition and lived positively with HIV through psychosocial support. Through my support, the young people themselves were empowered to face the stigma and discrimination they faced from societies they lived in. We empowered them to take the lead and engage in awareness campaigns at social events, in the local clinics and high-schools to educate their communities and other young people who might be suffering alone about HIV/AIDS.

In my experience, young people living with HIV were very vulnerable and had unique and pressing psychosocial problems on top of the daily challenges of being an adolescent. They wanted to be like everyone else, yet they had to live under a medicine regime which their lives depended on. Some of them had physical scars and disfigurements from the illnesses they have suffered from and were subjected to ridicule and discrimination from their peers. The young people I work with were now interested in dating and marrying but did not know how to handle issues around their sexuality. My work aimed to assist the young people in adhering to their medication regimes and to attend to their overall medical care at the hospitals and clinics.

I addressed feelings of stigma and discrimination, isolation, despair and other related emotional distress the young people might suffer from as a result of their condition. I addressed needs associated with emerging sexuality, including mechanisms for communicating.

Our cultural norms and beliefs made gender equality very challenging. Most of the young girls in our support group had no other ambition other than getting married and starting their own families. I tirelessly worked to motivate and empower them to think of careers outside the home. I discussed the importance of formal school. Sometimes the young people face challenges in coming up with the fees and uniforms required. We discussed ways of empowering the young people so that they can be equipped for the job markets. I stressed the importance of young women’s ability to earn salaries and to freely make their own decisions about sexual relationships, contraceptives use and health care.

Working with these young people changed my life for the better. My attitudes and respect for all people living with HIV grew tremendously. I developed and grew the ability to make decisions that did not cause harm to the young people and how to define and choose programmes that suit the young people best. I learnt the factors that made them make some informed decisions.

I worked with the young people consistently since 2011. I matured and became stronger and more confident in myself during that period. The young people I worked with looked up to me to continue providing the service that I give them. Together we have coined a slogan, “Tinevimbo forward ever – backwards never”. As I helped them, they became self-aware I had introspected and also became self-aware.

My husband was opposed to my getting into politics but I convinced him and I was then elected as a councillor and the first woman mayor in my town. My children had all been involved with Tinevimbo at some level. I have 3 girls whom I have encouraged to learn all about HIV/ AIDS. They had never stigmatised or discriminated those who lived with the disease they knew the importance of making safe decisions on sexual matters. In our culture it is taboo for families to discuss sexuality but in my family I encouraged all of us to freely do so.

Two of my daughters are over 30 and still not married because I have encouraged them to pursue their careers first. My eldest daughter is finishing her PHD while my second eldest, a medical doctor, is specializing studying psychiatry in the UK. I brought them up to know that marriage should not be the all to a woman. To know that a woman needed to be empowered by being educated and assuming leadership roles so that could empower other women.

The nurses at our clinics have welcomed my initiative to set aside days on which the young people could collect their medicines separately from the adults. Before I joined council our health educators mostly concentrated on informing the newly diagnosed young people of their HIV-positive test result and preparing them for and assisting them with the disclosure of their HIV status to their family members, peers and other people that they might feel a need to share this information and dishing out the medicines. However, since I had been there, they now gave wider services to the young people. They saw the young people separately from adults and dealt with the technical aspects of adherence. They assessed those whose were in danger of lapsing and they also worked with those who needed psychiatric support.

Health service providers at all Kwekwe council clinics were generally happy with the separation of young people from adults for these services. They recognized that the issues young people grappled with were different from those affecting adults. We had regular in-house re-orientation training on how to work with adolescents. The young people themselves received peer education training from other private voluntary organizations in the sector like AfricAid.

I had learnt that it was important to value the views and feelings of the young people themselves. It empowered them to take the lead in their treatment programmes. As a local authority we intended to resuscitate our recreational facilities so that so that we offered the young people a wider choice of sporting and recreational activities. The young people had a football team for both men and women but they had not ventured into any other sporting activity.