She may be living with HIV, but Boniswe Petronella Maphanga has a radiant smile, a gentle sing-song voice and a joyful attitude to life.
In South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, Boniswe is not alone in facing the challenge of living with HIV, as more than one in four adults is living with the disease. Inevitably, this has had a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of children who have been orphaned.
“My husband died in 2006 and not long after I started to feel ill,” said Boniswe. “I found out I had TB and started to get treatment. But I also got tested and discovered I had HIV.”
“By 2008 I was bedridden and that’s when a Red Cross volunteer started to help me,” the thirty-year-old explained. “She took me to the clinic and gave me a lot of support and counselling.”
The Red Cross has a transport fund which its volunteers use to provide small amounts of cash to pay for people to get a bus or taxi to the clinic when they can’t afford it.
Although Boniswe’s seven-year-old daughter, Amanda, has lost her father she is fortunate to still have her mother. The two of them live in a sparsely furnished home, made of adobe and thatched roof in a remote rural village, where getting access to anti-retroviral therapy is not easy, but it is vital to maintaining Boniswe’s health.
“It was the Red Cross volunteer who encouraged me to take my treatment regularly,” Boniswe said. “She took care of me till I was better and explained that even though I feel better I still need to keep taking the treatment and going to the clinic for regular check ups.”
Red Cross support
The South African Red Cross provides both emotional and practical support for thousands of people like Boniswe. It helps with basic homecare and food parcels, as well as giving advice on nutrition and establishing food gardens which help with income generation.
When Boniswe got sick she was forced to drop out of school, but since her health has dramatically improved she was able to finish her schooling and is now studying ancillary healthcare.
Despite the big smile, there’s no denying that life is tough for Boniswe. She doesn’t have a job and is struggling to find enough money for food, let alone the fees to complete her studies. But she knows how to count her blessings.
A positive future
“My daughter does not have HIV and my mother helps me with money for food,” Boniswe said. “The Red Cross volunteer still visits me once a week and I’m so grateful for the help she’s given me and for the confidence I’ve gained.
“When I finish my studies I want to work at the clinic as an HIV and TB counsellor. I want to tell people that if they have HIV it is not the end of the world. You can live a long life and keep healthy. I will be able to tell them that I am HIV positive and they will be able to see how healthy I am.”