What An Amazing Inspiring Person!
My name is Rakhants’a Lehloibi. I’m a 21-year-old male from Mohale’sHoek district. I was born and bred at Ha Tsepo until my mother passed away in 2005. My grandmother then took me to stay with her at Maphutseng (a rural area in Mohale’sHoek). I truly enjoyed staying with her. Even though my mother was no more, I never felt left out or unloved. She took a very good care of me. She taught me everything that I know today and for that I am grateful.
In 2007, I got critically ill to an extend where I thought I was dying. I still don’t know how I was able to survive. My grandmother took me to different traditional healers but unfortunately they were not able to help me. She took me to a clinic in town where I was tested for HIV. Back then there were no rapid tests for HIV, therefore, I had to wait for the results. My results finally came back and I had sadly tested positive for HIV.
“My poor child. How has a young boy like you who is also an orphan acquired HIV? A disease that is known to infect unfaithful men and women who work in South Africa…” said my grandmother.
I still don’t remember if my grandmother’s question was answered. I was then initiated on ART on the 06th March 2007. I was still not feeling well during my early days of being on ART and therefore, school had to be postponed. Time went by. I saw myself taking pills every day and I had no idea why I had to take them. It was even harder to understand because other children were not taking any medication at all. I saw my grandmother struggling every month to make ends meet and to ensure that I had transport to go to the clinic. I still wondered why she had to push so hard to ensure that I don’t miss my appointments.
When I was doing my standard 5, I was then given a horse to ride to the clinic since that was the mode of transport my grandmother could afford. She would wake me up very early in the mornings to make sure that I do not arrive late at the clinic. I did that until I was in standard 6. The other day I asked her about this pills that I had to take and all the troubles we had to go through which included missing school just to ensure that I don’t miss appointments.
“My grandchild this pills you are taking are for your frequent nose bleeding issue. They just help you control your nose bleeding.” she said.
I just pretended as if I understood what she meant, but deep down I knew I didn’t. As time went by, I decided that when my nose is not bleeding then I will not take my medication. I was tired of missing school just to go to the clinic for my bleeding nose. I started pill tossing. My nose was not bleeding every day, so why take medication every day?
In 2013, in the middle of the year, I started experiencing stigma in school. Other children started taking about me saying I have AIDS. My confidence was gone just like that. I did not feel comfortable going to school anymore. A part of me still believed what my grandmother told me. That year was super difficult for me. I even thought of committing suicide, going to initiation school or running away from home.
Despite all the challenges I faced that year, I was able to pass and go to standard 7. I then decided that I was going to fight anyone who was going to say I have AIDS. I started isolating myself from other children. There was this particular boy who remained my friend, even though it wasn’t for long as he also started rumors about me. I then decided to go to initiation school just so that I could be fit enough to fight anyone who were to talk about me being sick.
Immediately after completing my final exams, we decided to run away from home with the other boy from my village and go to initiation school. When I thought of my grandmother’s love towards me, how she was going to be left alone while I was gone and how I was going to miss the attention she used to give me as I was the only child at home, I decided otherwise. I lied to the people I was with and told them I’ll be back, but I never went back.
My standard 7 results came back and I passed with third class. I thought of not going to high school because I was worried that other students were still going to discriminate me. My sister then decided that I should move to Maseru to stay with her and attend my high school there. I agreed to my sister’s request because I thought Maseru was closer to South Africa and therefore maybe people who lived there were different and besides, they didn’t know me.
I left Mohale’sHoek and went to stay in Maseru with my sister. Unfortunately for me, I was referred to Baylor clinic, where I had to continue my treatment. I asked my sister why I had to continue taking those pills and she told me they are the same as the ones I used to take while I was staying my grandmother. I was not happy but I had no choice but to agree to the arrangement. The first time I went to Baylor I was given pills that were to last me for a month.
. I continued pill tossing and I left 4 pills as I used to do at my previous clinic. I was shocked when I was told that my adherence was poor.
“I did what I used to do. Why am I told about poor adherence this time around? How do they know that I haven’t been taking my medication well?” I asked myself.
I was given more medication which was supposed to last me for 3 weeks and I thought it was supposed to last me for a month. I left 4 pills again when I went back for my next appointment. I was told face to face that I was pill tossing. I had no choice but to tell the truth. I was advised to join teen club for psychosocial support. I did not like the fact that I had to be with other children since I had a bad experience back at home where I was stigmatized and discriminated by my age mates. Despite all that, I agreed to join. That is where I discovered that my teen club mates and I were living with HIV.
I learned about HIV transmission. I then discovered that I might have been infected by my mother. I started asking my sister a lot of questions. She finally disclosed to me that my mother tested HIV positive and unfortunately instead of going to the clinic for treatment, she went to traditional doctors. Apparently they thought my mother was bewitched and that is why she was never taken to the clinic for treatment and that is why she passed away.
I still didn’t understand why my other siblings were not infected, but, I made a decision from then that I was going to adhere to my medication. It was unfortunately too late for me because the virus in me was smarter than I ever thought I was. My viral load was excessively high despite my good adherence. If the number that appeared on my viral load results was to be converted to money, I would have been super rich.
One of my health professionals said, “My child, you are as good as dead. The medication you are taking is not helping you at all anymore. This simply means you are failing on treatment.”
In 2017, I was initiated on second line treatment as I was failing on first line. I went from taking 1 pill per day to taking 5 per day. I struggled a lot when I started due to the amount of pills I had to take. My adherence went back to being poor and I was told that someone was to come to my home and assist me since I was clearly struggling. I did not want to have someone coming to my house every day to help me take my medication. I had to do something to improve my adherence. I had to change and become a better person.
I turned to God for guidance. He was the only one who was going to help me change. I used to kneel down and call unto him every day. I called upon my mother, whom I didn’t even know since she passed away while I was very young. I asked her to look out for me from wherever she was. Indeed, things changed. I changed and became a better version of myself. My adherence improved and the health professionals at the clinic started clapping hands for me. I knew my mother was proud that I was able to defeat a virus that caused her death. In 3 months’ time, my viral load was suppressed.
Everyone started asking how I did it. My caregiver was called to the clinic and told about my improvement on adherence and my viral load suppression. Health professionals were curious to know how I did it but my sister didn’t know either. I attended school well without letting my guard down towards my school mates due to my experience in Primary School. As time went by, I was appointed as one of the leaders of the teen club. I started feeling free. I was not afraid of being seen going to the clinic by other student anymore.
As I was planning on sharing good news with my grandmother, she passed away. All I wanted to tell her was how blessed I was to have had her in my life. I wanted her to see the man I had grown to be, all because of her. She showed me nothing but love. She took a very good care of me. She struggled a lot in life to ensure that I became a better person. She was my everything. Her death broke me into pieces. I had a lot of questions. I didn’t understand why everyone who loved me was taken away from me. During that difficult time, my sister was there for me.
“My dear brother, God will never abandon us. He will always be there for us through everything we come across in life. All we have to do is call upon his mercy. Sometimes we go through hardships in life just so that we can get closer to him. Let us always remember how much God loves us.” she said.
I was suddenly filled with hope and I put all my faith in God. I started seeing a bright light and I believed that indeed God loved me. In 2019 I was appointed as one of the peer educators at Baylor clinic. I learned about leadership since I would love to be a leader one day. I gained a lot of information from everyone I worked with. I made new friends and I was able to grow a lot.
In a short space of time, my friends and I were able to realize the lack of knowledge regarding HIV in our communities, especially amongst
adolescents (our age mates). We saw how much people were afraid of HIV yet they put their lives at high risks of being infected almost every day. We then decided to disclose our statuses. Our aim was to remind people that HIV still existed and that being HIV positive doesn’t mean the end of life. You can be HIV positive and still live a healthy and long life.
My message to you my dear brother or sister is; Thinking you know about something does not necessarily mean you know about it. A lot of people think they know a lot about HIV yet they don’t.
Disclosing my status was not easy for me. I knew how it felt like to be named after a virus that lives in your body. I experienced it at a very young age. It happened to me again at my High School after I disclosed. My fellow students named me HIV. It still hurt, but not as much as it used to while I was still in Primary. I was tougher now. I was able to handle things that were out of my control, therefore, I soldered on. I’m proud to say now I’m one of the HIV activists in Lesotho. I wish people who are living with HIV and are afraid to disclose or to even adhere well to their medication will read my story and learn a thing or 2 from it. I know my mom and my grandmother are proud of me wherever they are. I am proud of myself too.