My name is Funeka Menze. I am 30 years old and have lived in Mandleni, Nyandeni municipality with my family for my entire life.
I am the second daughter in a family of eight girls. My father was a mine worker until 1982. When he lost his job, my family faced great financial difficulties and we were forced to sell our livestock to keep my sisters and I in school. My family has also suffered greatly because of illness. I have lost two sisters, those who were closest in age to me, the younger in 1999 and the eldest in 2003.
In 2003, after I knew that my older sister had died of AIDS, I went to be tested for HIV. My test came back positive. I was shattered and overwhelmed. I was afraid that if anyone found out, they would throw me out of the community.
For the next two years, I struggled with my fears, feeling alone in my worries and experiences of the illness. The year 2005 was extremely difficult for me: I lost my three month old daughter and became very sick with meningitis.
While I was sick, I went to the nearest government hospital in my municipality, in the community of Canzibe. While there, I attended a meeting of an HIV/AIDS support group. I was impressed and encouraged by the way they strengthened and shared with each other.
I decided to start my own support group and with the help of a Canzibe doctor, the group met on September 25, 2005 for the first time. There were five members who met, sharing our experiences of HIV/AIDS and comforting each other in times of hardship. The group has since expanded to ten in the area, with some receiving financial support from TransCape Non-Profit Organization. I am the only remaining member of the original group, as the others have passed away from the disease.
In late 2005, I began to train as an HIV/AIDS counsellor and educator. In 2006, I began to teach about HIV/AIDS at local clinics. I didn’t always feel confident when I was teaching, but I continued to do it regardless of my nerves or the receptiveness of the audience.
In July 2006, I became very sick again and was told that I had to begin antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. Canzibe Hospital did not yet have access to ARVs, so I approached TransCape NPO for help. The organization sponsored my treatment, making me their first ARV recipient. Later in the year, TransCape built an ARV clinic in partnership with Canzibe Hospital.
After responding well to the ARVs, I continued to teach; at clinics, schools, and TransCape awareness days. Later, I became employed by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a national initiative for HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment. Currently, I am paid by the TAC for monthly visits to local schools.
I am told that I am a very strong and powerful speaker. I now teach with confidence and passion so that it is hard for anyone to ignore or disregard my words. I am encouraged when crowds are receptive to my message, but I no longer care what people think or say about me.
When I am not teaching or speaking at awareness days, I run a small chicken business. I started this business from a small interest-free loan from TransCape NPO. I raise day-old chicks and sell them at six weeks old in the local market. With my income from this business and the TAC, I support my two sons, five sisters and parents.
I hope to eventually become an engineer. Currently, I am taking computer classes to become a clerk, so that I can pay for engineering school. I also hope that my boys will be educated and grow up to be decent people, respecting and caring for others and their community.
Stories Written by Karin Zylstra Sawatzky Photos by Matthew Zylstra Sawatzky