Nonhlanhla Mazaleni uses her personal experience living with HIV to help young people who test positive to stay on treatment and live positively.
The 47-year-old, who hails from Diepkloof in Soweto is a professional counsellor and the founder of Tholulwazi Phakathi. She’s never been one to shy away from her HIV status and, after living with it for 26 years, is reaching out to others.
Living positively is not easy
“I live positively with HIV, but it was not easy to accept at first. There was no medication and many stigmas, and I was so afraid. I attended support groups where we did memory boxes so our families would have something to remember us with when we died. We also attended counselling to prepare us for death. I remember I was unemployed at that time and had nothing. I put in my scarf and perfume and wrote letters to my children, so they know their mother loved them,” said Mazaleni.
She said she was part of clinical trials to test if ARVs worked since they had not been introduced in South Africa.
“I have always wanted to be a nurse, and I started doing courses related to HIV because I was curious and wanted to know what HIV was. I started working as a healthcare worker looking after HIV-positive people and worked as a Dot Supporter at Diepklooof Clinic, where I received training in my field,” said Mazaleni.
When work meets passion
Her passion for working with young people started as an Adherence Counsellor at Chris Baragwanath Hospital.
“Adherence counselling is focused on mothers who have HIV-positive children. As a child, I was abused sexually by someone close to me, and no one listened to me at home. I think what I am doing with young people is helping me heal through the support I give to young people. I used to relate to whatever caregivers shared in the counselling room because I am also raising an HIV+ child. I used my passion for writing to educate kids about children and parents on HIV through storytelling and drawing,” she said.
She said she does counselling differently from the norm and has attracted children a lot because they want to hear these stories.
“They ended up visiting me at my home and used to come over in groups during the holidays. I found myself with 40 kids in my one-bedroom house at one point. This was when I decided to start hosting holiday camps for adolescents after resigning from my job,” Mazaleni explained.
The start of something magical
She continued: “I launched my non-profit organisation, Tholulwazi Phakathi, which hasn’t been an easy journey. At Tholulwazi, we help children born or living with HIV because some children get HIV through rape because of the myth about healing HIV by sleeping with a virgin. Since 2019, I used to hold camps for over 100 young people to educate them on living positively with HIV based on my own experience.”
Mazaleni has helped many young people secure employment through her organisation.
“Children born with HIV face many challenges, including bullying and stigma. We started a campaign with those born with HIV after 1994 who are ageing with HIV. Last year, we celebrated #28AndAlive to celebrate these young people who are living with HIV and also to inspire other young people who are afraid to disclose their statuses.”
We have helped with tracing defaulters to bring them back to treatment. And feather give them physco social support. Proved on going counselling, Adherence club/counselling. We use our own strategy called (CATS) Community Adolescents Treatment Support. pic.twitter.com/m6RFdcM1Hn
— Tholulwazi Phakathi (@TLP_NPO) April 25, 2021
Sparrow Village launch
“I didn’t know why my home was always full of young people living with HIV. I eventually realised they were from Sparrow Village, a home for abandoned young people. We’ve since decided to open our new branch at Sparrow Village because we need to educate young people who have all lost hope. It is difficult to support people when you do not have funding, but we are grateful for donations that enable us to do our work,” said Mazaleni.
Mazaleni has also been recently elected as a ward committee member through the work that she does in the community.
“Through our Facebook page, we have initiated people into ART. We also deal with various cases through our inboxes and Whatsapp messages, where I can help. I am very passionate about teaching people about HIV and not for them to feel sorry for us,” said Mazaleni.
The power of reading
Mazaleni hopes to publish HIV storybooks for children.
“I plan to publish a series of storybooks to help educate children and use these books in counselling rooms. This will help to create awareness among children and portray HIV in a way that won’t scare them or make them feel less human.” – Health-e News