A 12-year-old learns she has HIV. She’s relieved. This is her story.
When Sidi* remembers her childhood, she remembers being sick.
“I was always in and out of hospitals,” she says. “One week I’d be in school…the next in the hospital. I loved school, but keeping up wasn’t easy.”
Sidi didn’t know why she was sick. No one did. It took 12 years to find out. Doctors looked at Sidi’s long medical history and ordered a new test.
Sidi was HIV positive. Doctors said she’d contracted the virus at birth. And when 12-year-old Sidi finally learned the truth, her life changed.
“It was a relief,” she says. “When I discovered my status, I was able to find a will to live.”
Sidi’s doctor explained that with medicine, she would be healthy enough to go to school, just like her friends.
12 years later, Sidi is a poised college student. Today, she visits her clinic in Kilifi, where she picks up her medication and sees her nurse. Sitting by an open window with bright curtains, she speaks openly about the toughest times of her childhood. One memory stands out. It was after she’d learned her status.
Sidi wanted to keep her status to herself, but her classmates wouldn’t let her. They wanted to know why she was taking medicine. Sidi told them she was recovering from tuberculosis. But as months went by, they kept asking questions. They went so far as to break into Sidi’s medicine box looking for answers.
“It was very hard when the other kids found out…” she says. “They said bad things about me because of my status. I felt very alone. I just wanted to be normal and healthy, to get my education.”
Sidi’s dad and stepmom kept her moving. “They made sure I went to the clinic to get my medicine and encouraged me to join a support group.”
Sidi’s face lights up when she thinks about her group—all the young people living with HIV she’s met.
“In our group, we don’t fear anybody. We can talk about anything. I feel free.”
It can be difficult to cope with a positive diagnosis at first, Sidi says. But if you accept your status, keep taking your medicine, and take your doctor’s advice seriously, it helps.
“If you have problems, face them. So you can solve them.”
Sidi was 12 when she joined the support group. Now she’s a young woman—a leader—who wants to change the narrative about HIV.
“People think that being HIV positive means you’re a walking corpse,” she says. “They’re wrong. It doesn’t mean you are dead. We are living.”
This is the message she shares with her friends.
“I say, ‘Go for your dream. Let’s show everyone that being HIV positive can’t stop you.’”
Sidi gathers up her things to leave. She has a long journey back to her campus, and a lot of studying to do. But she’ll always make time to come back to the people and the clinic that has changed her life. She calls it her home.
“I was born with this disease,” she says. “And I think there was a reason. When I talk to people about HIV and help them, I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose.”
When you give to Pathfinder, girls like Sidi can get the support and medical care they need to lead healthy lives and transform their communities.
This clinic and support group is supported by the Afya Pwani project, led by Pathfinder and supported by USAID.
*Name has been changed