Who are we?
I’m a survivor is a national campaign of the Diamond Project, which is an organisation that works in the Gauteng province to bring support to HIV positive young people and create a support system for them. The campaign works in different locations in Johannesburg such as Diepsloot and Daveyton, and works with artists as a way of both raising awareness, and getting funding for the work that is done in communities. Community interventions vary widely and the people within communities are encouraged to develop their own initiatives that promote the message of living positively with HIV. Our activities include theatre and sports clubs for young people; community dialogues with men and women; and developing and promoting message music. In Daveyton, where the young women with whom the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) has been working are based, the I’m a survivor campaign works with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) to bring positive messaging and support groups to young people in the location.
What was the issue?
• Despite all the work done around decreasing the stigma associated with HIV and living with HIV in South Africa, HIV+ people continue to struggle with accepting their status, and live in fear of being discovered by their loved ones. They are afraid to disclose because they worry about being ostracized, discriminated against and rejected.
• Programmes targeting young people are focused on prevention and offer no guidance on how to live positively with HIV as a young person in school, or how to deal with the challenges of being HIV positive at that young age. They do not take account of those young people who are not sexually active, and have contracted the infection through, birth, rape or other involuntary cause.
• Information and materials tailored for young people living with HIV – about health, their sexuality, challenges and how to take care of themselves – were therefore hard to find, and this gap made young people living with HIV feel isolated and unsupported. The added layer of living a life of secrecy from family and friends intensified the feelings of loneliness and resulted in depression and other forms of stress. After testing, many young people did not know where to go, or how to handle their diagnosis. As young people who are living with HIV ourselves, we knew first-hand the experiences and challenges that they faced.