In 2009, when Mabonang Sethathi noticed she was losing weight she decided to get tested for HIV. “Since finding out my HIV positive status my life has changed for the better,” says Mabonang. “I know some people will be surprised to hear that.”
After Mabonang, 48, was diagnosed with HIV, a Lesotho Red Cross home-based care volunteer would visit her regularly to give emotional support and ensure she took her medication. But Mabonang is an extremely resilient and charismatic woman and it wasn’t long before the Red Cross approached her about becoming an Ambassador of Hope in Mapholaneng where she lives.
“At first I thought ‘who me?’” Mabonang says. “And then I thought, why not give it a go? If I can help at least one person overcome the barriers in learning their HIV status then that’s an achievement for me.”
Living with HIV and hope
“Now a typical day involves visiting one of the villages in my district and conducting a public gathering to inform people about HIV, how it’s transmitted, why they need to be tested and how they can access treatment. We use role plays and songs to get the message across and we also encourage safe sex by distributing condoms,” she says.
For anybody coming to terms with the fact they are living with HIV, having someone like Mabonang to talk to can make all the difference. “It’s important to be sympathetic to people’s needs,” Mabonang says. “I am a good listener and always try to answer any questions or concerns people have.”
One person that Mabonang has helped is Halekheloe Nkalai. After meeting him at one of the public gatherings, Mabonang noticed that Halekheloe, 49, was unusually gaunt and advised him to get tested. His result was HIV positive.
Advocating for the vulnerable
Halekheloe says: “I was so distraught when I heard the news and I didn’t know how I would survive. And then there were all the drugs, it was really confusing. But Mabonang was a great help. She would come with me to the clinic and show me the right drugs to take, how much and how often. I am extremely grateful for her counselling and advice.”
Mabonang’s determination and drive has led her to be elected as a local government councillor for the district. “I look forward to taking on my new responsibilities as a local councillor,” she says. “I want to make sure the money allocated for drugs is used in the right way and given to the most vulnerable. I want to represent people living with HIV and AIDS as well as orphans who lose their parents to the disease.
“I used to face stigma with some people calling me names, but now I do not care. I am proud of my status and want to ensure people who have HIV are not discriminated against. I am in good health, living my dream of helping people and I can’t stop smiling.”