Leading by example: Lydia’s story of mentorship, health and hope

A young woman showing a leaflet to a young man © Frontline AIDS/Steven Chikosi 2020
Lydia is a passionate mentor for young people living with HIV

As a young person living with HIV, Lydia Tariro Chanaiwa from Harare in Zimbabwe is proud of the difference she is making as a mentor to other young women.

Lydia supports a diverse group of adolescent girls and young women to claim their sexual and reproductive health and rights. This includes helping them to stay on HIV treatment and find mental resilience.

Her journey began as a community adolescent treatment supporter (CATS) though our READY+ programme, where she provided support, counselling and information to other young people living with HIV. She then went on to become a READY to Lead mentor.

Mother and mentor

In 2013, after having her son, Lydia began mentoring other young mothers living with HIV, supporting them to take their HIV medication correctly and get treatment for their babies.

“When I became a CATS, I started to accept myself as I was, so I could move on with life,” says Lydia. “After that, I had my child and he is [HIV] negative and I am so proud of that. As a young mentor mum I really feel good because none of the babies I have monitored are HIV positive.

“I have managed to empower other young girls to access sexual and reproductive health and rights services at the clinic. It is really nice to know that when they are having their day-to-day services, the clinic staff will say ‘we have Lydia to support you’. Then the clients know that they have a mother and sister to watch over them.”

Treatment troubles

After working with READY+ for a number of years – and as someone who is also living with HIV – Lydia has witnessed the day-to-day challenges of taking HIV medication correctly.

She says: “When you are young and you elope [move] to another family, it is really hard because you have to show your medicine everywhere, even though not everyone knows your status. I had a case where a young mother was forced to hide her medicine, she defaulted for most of three months and it was really hard for her but she had no alternative.

“Some say the pill is too big for them and some are afraid of the side effects. They think that if they take the pill it will affect their face and their body. You have to help them understand the reasons why they are taking their pills.”

Supporting young sex workers

Lydia has supported a number of young female sex workers who are living with HIV. These women face difficulties in taking regular medication and staying healthy. Sometimes the challenges can be as basic as the time of day medication has to be taken – a seemingly simple thing that in reality can become a huge barrier.

“For lots of them it will be really hard to take their pills when they have to be working during the night,” says Lydia. “So they will say ‘what if I take my pills in the daylight?’ and we have to say that this pill is only for the evening. This is a challenge for them because they work in the evening.”

Creating better clinics

Having now worked in a healthcare setting in Harare, Lydia knows about the ways in which something as straightforward as a clinic’s layout can present problems for young people living with HIV.

“The set-up of clinics here in Harare is already disclosing our status as young people,” she explains. “If you have HIV you go to a cabin then if you have general issues you go to another building. It’s not good for young people. They will say ‘I really want to come to the facility but the set-up is pushing me away.’”

The READY programme partners are working with healthcare settings to make them more adolescent friendly. CATS spend part of their time based in clinics and are on-hand to support young people with any questions they might have about testing, treatment and other areas like mental health.

Looking back, looking forward

Like many of those involved in READY+, Lydia does not want to lose touch with the young people she has dedicated so much of her time and care to. She is also passionate about sharing what she has learned through the programme with other young people around the world.

“If there was any chance where young people who are living with HIV could meet as a forum, with other countries – sharing our experiences, sharing ideas – that would be nice. We need to learn from other cultures, what they do, how they cope. That is my wish.”

Our READY+ programme

READY+ is working to reach 30,000 adolescents and young people living with HIV in eSwatini, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The four-year programme is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Maputo, and led by Frontline AIDS, in partnership with Y+, AFRICAID/Zvandiri, Coordinating Assembly of NGOs in Swaziland (CANGO), Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), M&C Saatchi World Services, Paediatric AIDS Treatment for Africa (PATA), and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI).

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adolescents and young peopleCommunity Adolescent Treatment Supporter (CATS)Living with HIVpeer supportREADYsexual and reproductive health and rights