24000f54c7e5.jpgPositive magazine has been in the making for two years and it’€™s the brain-child of AIDS activist and educator, Pholokgolo Ramothwala. Pholo has been living with HIV for 13 years after being diagnosed at age 19, while he was still at university. At that time, he knew very little about the condition. Pholo says many people are still in the dark about HIV, hence, he thought of starting a magazine to bridge the information gap.

‘€œI meet a lot of people’€¦ young professionals and people who are living with HIV who are saying: ‘€˜But, I need something I can take home and read for myself because at work I can’€™t access the internet because it’€™s restricted and there is nothing else out there’€™. Also, since Khomanani, the government’€™s communication programme ended, I realised that there isn’€™t much for people to read out there’€.

‘€œBefore we started the magazine, we decided to research’€¦ What is it that people are not getting out there about HIV that we could present to the public? And that’€™s why we decided to specifically look at people who are already infected. We find that a lot of people are scared or unable to access information through the internet, and so on, because most of the time, they are at work. That’€™s why we thought this is the best way to help people who still need information’€, he explains.

His own experience of finding out that he was HIV-positive at a young age influenced the formation of the magazine.

‘€œI found out that I had HIV while I was a student. So, it’€™s one of the things that I’€™m passionate about. And I went to universities. And I went to find other students who are living with HIV. And it was amazing just how many young people are finding out today that they have HIV. They just don’€™t know what to do’€, says Pholo.

He says the target group for Positive magazine is mostly young professionals.

‘€œYou would think professionals know everything. But when it comes to HIV, we find that there isn’€™t a lot of information that’€™s getting to them. The second gap is that there is not a lot of information readily available for people to go and read at home. If you look at the stigma around HIV, it makes it difficult’€¦ which was one of our concerns about the magazine’€¦ that will people pick it up without worrying that I don’€™t want my sister to see that I’€™m reading a Positive magazine’€?  

The magazine is not only made for people who live with HIV, but it’€™s also for those who are affected by the condition.  

‘€œWe kind of created it in a way that it will not only attract people who are positive, but also family members, to say: ‘€˜I just want to know more about HIV, what other people are doing’€™. If you have somebody at home who is living with HIV and you don’€™t know how to support them emotionally, this is the magazine that can help you’€.

‘€œThere is every reason to look at it’€¦ to be able to get rid of the ignorance. There is this general perception that when you have HIV, you look sick. And if you look at the magazine, there is nobody in this magazine who looks sick. It’€™s ordinary people that you meet on the street and you would not expect them to be HIV-positive. So, it’€™s also about getting people to understand that HIV is not designated for a specific group of people, but it can affect anybody. It might not be you, but it might be your neighbor, it might be your colleague, it might be somebody that you are close to’€, says Pholo.  

The first issue, which launches tomorrow (Friday, 18th November 2011), has about five pages addressing the issue of stigma. Paging through the magazine, Pholo picks one story.    

‘€œWe’€™ve got somebody called Nelo, who is speaking about her fear in the work-place and also relationships. When we ask her: ‘€˜Have you experienced any stigma or discrimination in a relationship’€™, the first thing that she said is that: ‘€˜I have’€™. She said: ‘€˜Stigma is one of the biggest problems that people living with HIV encounter. That’€™s where stigma is most evident. Initially, it hurts. This happened during the time I was trying to come to terms with my status. I was very vulnerable and emotionally weak. With time I learned that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and that anybody who will not be in a relationship with me because of my status is a small-minded person. There is much more to a person than their HIV status. We are all beautiful souls irrespective of illness we are diagnosed with’€™.’€            

When asked how the magazine can be described, Pholo explains that: ‘€œIt’€™s a guide for those who are affected and infected because it shows you how other people are living a positive life, but, also, if you have somebody in your family who is living with HIV, what they can do. It’€™s a self-help for those who are positive and don’€™t know what to do. It just tells you, ‘€˜this is where to go, this is how to do it, this is what I’€™ve done’€™. And you, obviously, can tweak here and there in order to suit what works for you’€.  

To get a copy of Positive magazine you can order it online via www.positiveconvention.co.za. A copy sells for R19.00 each. The magazine comes out every quarter, which means that the next issue will be in March 2012. Many of the writers are people living with HIV themselves.