Saturday 17 April 2021
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My story of living with HIV

Patients and their doctors would be the first to tell you that HIV/AIDS treatment has changed in ways unthinkable.
Who you think is infected has changed too. But what has not improved is the stigma that is seemingly more untreatable, than the disease itself.
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2003 at the age of seventeen, Livey Van Wyk like any other person who finds themselves diagnosed with the virus, have a painful story to tell about the discrimination meted out by the public against those diagnosed with the virus.
After discovering that she was HIV-positive, having not known much about the virus, Van Wyk followed her doctor’s advice to live healthy, which has helped her to transform her from constantly harbouring negative thoughts to living with a positive mind.
But this was not before a brutal discussion with her doctor who told her that a painful death awaits her. This warning ignited thoughts of fear that constantly cluttered her mind because she believed that she was too young and that she had a bright future in front of her.
Van Wyk, who has a young daughter, has since turned her condition into a positive story which she now uses to help others change their attitude towards HIV, adding that HIV-positive individuals do not need pity or sympathy but rather genuine support.
During an interview with this publication, Van Wyk was more than willing to share the tale of her life’s journey.
Still finding it difficult to talk about her past at times, she noted that as much as it has been almost fifteen years since she was diagnosed with the virus, talking about it always feels like yesterday.
“It’s not easy talking about it because it always brings those tears back, thinking about what I went through was the biggest challenge of my life.
When I got diagnosed I was scared because I did not want to die, and sadly at the time that was all I was told.
It felt like nothing positive was ever going to come from it,” she narrated.
In an effort to find someone to confide in, Van Wyk opted to publicly reveal her status, hoping that people would understand and accept her situation, a move prompted by the fact that the community in which she lived did not know much about the virus.
“Most saw it as a death penalty.Back in the day, information surrounding the disease was very one sided and limited and almost everyone gave up on me.
I was also told to drop out of school because people feared that I would infect the rest of the students with the virus,” she regrettably said.
Van Wyk highlighted that, during her time in school there was a grade six Discovery Science text book that had a specific chapter on HIV/Aids.
This chapter only showed the negative traits of the virus which also contributed to how people would negatively treat her.
This forced Van Wyk to then seek help from her grandmother.
“I had nowhere to go, I then moved to Witvlei where my grandmother lived.
Surprisingly she was very accepting of my status and she did not discriminate against me.
She never questioned me about how I got the virus, all she did was show me love which was what I needed and told me that we were going to go through the journey together” Van Wyk explained.
With her grandmother being her only source of hope, Van Wyk took it upon herself to stop feeling sorry for herself and joined an association of people living with HIV/AIDS called Lironga Eparu.
There she met with various people who were also living with the virus and also found out what it actually meant to manage it and live a positive life in the literal sense.
Through research she then started a support group and shortly thereafter started an NGO because of her interest of wanting to do a lot for her community.
“I ran a charity organisation that helped with empowering women, the youth as well as providing them with income generating opportunities.
The charity also had a gardening project and brick project for the people of Witvlei” she noted.
This signalled a turning point in her life, her community heaped praise on her for all the work she has done for them and asked her if she would run for mayor.
This was however not a goal on her to-do list but because people saw the good in her, she opted to give it a try and at the age of 26 she became the mayor of Witvlei.
In 2016, Van Wyk was invited by UNICEF for their 17th celebrations in New York where she shared her story with the world.
Unknowingly her story managed to touch various people, and made it to the BBC Outlook Inspirations 2018 Award list of nominees.
Van Wyk, among three others, recently became one of the winners whose stories was chosen as the most inspiring.
“This award speaks about forgiving people because most of the hardship I went through, was due to the stigma that I faced which was painful.
It shows that there is a great appreciation when one talks about the virus.
It encourages me to continue doing what I do because evidently it means that somewhere the message is going through,” said a hopeful Van Wyk.
“People think enough coverage is created around it because there is treatment but there is a bigger need to share more information about the virus.
In Namibia we have a high HIV/AIDS epidemic and we have new infections every day especially among the youthful population.
It’s said to note that many of them do not know how to go about it.
We need the government, activists and stakeholders to raise more awareness around it because it’s not okay to keep silent” she concluded.

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