Strength to Face the Future
When Gladys Nikelo discovered she was HIV-positive in 1999, she was 15-years old. Needing support, she turned to her family. They turned their back on her. Initially, Gladys kept her HIV status secret, did not seek treatment, and watched her health decline.
Nowhere to Turn
This is an all-too-common occurrence in South Africa, where HIV/AIDS infection rates reach nearly 40% in some areas. Stigma prevents HIV/AIDS being discussed and restricts accurate information about prevention and treatment.
In 2003, Gladys happened to see Prudence Mabele, the founder of Positive Women’s Network (PWN) on TV. She was amazed at how confident Prudence appeared even while she was talking about being HIV-positive.
Gladys went on a mission to find Prudence. And, when she did, she immediately signed up as a member of one of PWN’s support groups. For the first time since her diagnosis she no longer felt alone. Now she was part of a community that understood what she was going through.
Through PWN, she learned about her illness and how to access treatment and Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs). Gladys also learned about good nutrition, essential for the ARVs to be effective. With the support of PWN, Gladys decided to “come out” with her HIV-positive status and to challenge those who discriminate against those who are HIV-positive. Gladys became an active, confident PWN member.
In 2008, Prudence asked her to become the Outreach Coordinator in the township of Kwathema. In this role, Gladys now organizes a number of discussion groups with the church youth group. Her goal is to organize even more discussion groups to involve all the youth in the townships.
Preventing the Spread of the Disease
She also works to inform families about resources for HIV-positive people, often participating in “funeral outreach.” That is, at the invitation of family members of someone who has died of AIDS, she and other PWN members attend the funeral as an opportunity to educate others about the disease.
Today, Gladys is on ARVs and has a four-year old boy who, because she was able to access key information about mother-to-child transmission, is HIV-negative. Gladys still tires easily and deals with health issues, but with the support of PWN, she has found the strength to face the future and live life richly despite her illness.
When asked her opinions of PWN, Gladys responds,
Because of PWN, I’m a strong person. And with my strength, I hope to lead other women who are HIV-positive to be strong as well.