Eswatini

Swaziland: Thembe Manana - "Even without HIV, life would be very hard"

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MBABANE, 5 November 2008 (PLUSNEWS) - Thembe Manana, 40, left her job as a domestic worker in South Africa and returned to her village in Swaziland 10 years ago to care for her mother and children. She talked to IRIN/PlusNews about her struggle with HIV and surviving in a country stricken by drought and poverty.

"I was healthy when I came back to Swaziland. When I had my son the test showed I was HIV negative, but some years went by and my body developed pains; it was hard for me to breathe. They took another test.

"I went home to tell my boyfriend, the father of my son, that I was HIV-positive. When I left he told his friends, and they told him, 'Do not go back to that place, you'll get HIV'.

"He took all his clothes and he left - I returned from the clinic and he was gone. That was the worst part, being alone. I am glad I have my children and my mother. In a way, we take care of each other.

"My mother is also positive. My father had three wives. When he died and my mother was sick and unable to look after my children, I gave up a job in South Africa as a house servant. I have not had a job since, because there are no jobs in our area.

"Even without HIV, life would be very hard. We live on a small farm; the field is less than a hectare and it is dry. We tried to grow some maize and groundnuts, but this year there was no rain, so nothing grew at all.

"We live in a mud-and-stick house. There is no food, no water in that place. I take care of my sister's child since my sister died; also with us is my cousin's child. My eldest daughter is 21 and she has a baby, and I have another daughter and a son, so you can say there are eight at our place.

"When I learned I was HIV-positive I had counselling, and the women told me about SWAPOL (Swazis for Positive Living). Now I learn about other people's problems because I am a counsellor there. Even though I am HIV positive, I have come to worry about other people.

"I take care of all the children of the community. During the day their parents are gone from their homes and these children, they are so poor and alone; they go the whole day and eat nothing at all.

"So I started a drop-in centre. From Monday through Friday 37 children are here, even though we have nothing. On weekends, I push my wheelbarrow from home to home, all around our community. I have a cup and a bowl. I ask the people to give me a cup of maize for the children, and that goes into the bowl.

"I get an allowance of R200 (US$20) a month from SWAPOL. I use R50 (US$5) each month to buy a bag of maize to grind up for all of us to eat, and R50 for vegetables. I must use R100 (US$10) for bus fare so I can go to the clinic twice a month.

"You could say being HIV-positive is the least of my problems, but I put all that stress aside because it is important to stay healthy. My feet hurt, but I think it is because of all the walking I do, pushing the wheelbarrow.

"The drop-in centre has attracted some attention. World Vision [an international NGO] this month started giving the children food, and UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund] is giving us clothes and arranging for my son to go to school. I think I can put away my wheelbarrow for now."

jh/ks/he

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