Tendai’s story: HIV, friendship and true love

Young man smiling in conversation Frontline AIDS/Steven Chikosi

When Tendai was diagnosed with HIV as a child, he was ostracised by all his friends. But at age 14, his life changed when the true love of a friend literally saved his life.

Tendai’s father passed away in 2006 of an AIDS-related illness. Not long after, Tendai became ill and developed sores all over his body. “By that time truly speaking it was as though I had AIDS because the names we were called were ‘Walking Grave’, ‘AIDS’ and ‘Best Before’,” Tendai says. “Those names were sad names back then. But now with my friends we can actually laugh together about them.”

Even after Tendai was diagnosed with HIV and started taking medication, his health did not immediately improve. He was frustrated because he didn’t get a clear explanation of why he had to take medication every day. Tendai then defaulted on his medication for more than a year and a half, because of the bitterness and sadness he felt towards those who lied to him about his health over the years. His mother could only watch him deteriorating day-by-day.

The healing power of friendship

“I had no friends because of my sickness and my skin was so horrible,” says Tendai. “The community elders and the caregivers of my friends actually disowned me as friends to their children. It was a tough situation, a heart-breaking situation.”

Then at age 14, Tendai joined the Zvandiri peer support group for adolescents and young people living with HIV. The group is run by Africaid, a community-based organisation in Zimbabwe who partner with Frontline AIDS. One of the peers, known as community adolescent treatment supporters, began visiting Tendai at home.

“He came to my house every day trying to be a friend to me, but by then I was a closed book,” says Tendai. “I didn’t want to be anyone’s friend. I thought ‘can’t he see that I’ve got sores all over my body and everyone in this community is disowning me to play with?’ But he was so persistent.”

Living a healthy life with HIV

Tendai learnt from his new friend what it really meant to live with HIV and how he could live a healthy normal life by taking his medication regularly. This helped him finally accept his status and start loving himself again.

“They had the long heart to make sure that I would be okay, that I would be this person that you see now,” says Tendai. “With their support I am this man who is now confident enough to speak about myself. I am confident enough to say that I have a girlfriend who I love. If it was not for them, I wouldn’t be here. I am now someone who is so proud.”

After attending peer support groups at Africaid for a number of years, Tendai himself was selected to become a peer supporter through the Frontline AIDS led READY+ programme. “I really wanted to do this because they showed me that if you have someone who really loves and cares for you, you can change. Before I was helped, I was on the verge of death. But they showed me that there is life and they kept monitoring me with true love.”

The challenges of living with HIV

Tendai was the perfect candidate to become a peer supporter because he knows the struggles other young people living with HIV face.

“Pill fatigue is the main challenge. If someone is born with HIV, they take medication from maybe the age of six. So they might say that these pills are becoming a problem and they no longer want to take them,” Tendai says. “Also, people might have suicidal thoughts and the fastest way to suicide might just be defaulting on their medication.”

Tendai celebrated his graduation from the READY+ programme after five years as a community adolescent treatment supporter, helping hundreds of young people. He continues to stand up for others living with HIV; weighing in with his friendship groups when he hears misunderstandings about AIDS.

Big heart and big dreams

Tendai seizes every opportunity he finds with both hands. He qualified in solar technology through the Skills 2 Live programme, which is run by Young Africa International in partnership with Frontline AIDS and Africaid, and he has big plans.

“In ten years’ time I want to be an ambulance technician,” he says. “Also, I want to have an orphanage to support children, including those that are HIV positive, or disabled. Marriage is maybe the last thing because I want to make sure I achieve these things first.”

She may have to wait a while, but when it happens Tendai’s future wife can be sure she’s found a good one.

READY+ is run by a consortium of partners led by Frontline AIDS with Africaid, CANGO, M&C Saatchi, REPSSI, PATA and Y+. It is working to reach 30,000 adolescents and young people living with HIV in Tanzania, eSwatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with sexual and reproductive health services and mental health support.

Skills 2 Live is improving employability, income and health for 1,300 vulnerable adolescents and young people, especially those affected by HIV in rural, urban and border towns of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

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AIDSCommunity Adolescent Treatment Supporter (CATS)HIV prevention and treatmentHIV stigmapeer supportsexual and reproductive health and rightsyoung peopleZimbabwe