Nchimunya Shambilu – Sedy, to her friends – bore a daughter in 2002, began getting sick in 2003, and learned she was HIV-positive in 2004. A year later, when Sedy was just 24, her husband died of AIDS-related illness.
Sedy went to live in her family’s village several hours from Lusaka. Her relatives didn’t want her in the house, and made her move her belongings to a shed. They put a pick and shovel near her bed, Sedy recalls: “I asked my grandfather why he was doing this and he said they didn’t want to be far from a shovel so that when I died, they would be ready to dig my grave. They told me they knew the place where the dead bodies were, and that they would find a place for me near my dead father.” Sedy says she told her grandfather that she was not going to die, that she had to live to care for her daughter.
When the family refused even to share food with her and her child, Sedy returned to Lusaka. One day at church, she stood before the congregation and said she was HIV-positive. She says the pastor told her, “Shut your mouth, sit down,” and instructed her not to return to the church. Not long after, she says, she saw the pastor at an HIV clinic; he begged her not to tell that she had seen him there. Eventually, she says, the pastor apologized for how he had treated her, and invited Sedy to attend his new church.
Sedy is proud that The ABATAKA Collection project taught her the skill of jewelry-making, which she also uses to make small items she can sell locally. With her earnings, she was able to put her daughter in school, and to give some money to a sick aunt. She has started a small business selling second-hand clothes, and she has been working at the HIV clinic, partly as a volunteer and partly for pay.
Sedy recently married a man who works at the clinic as a laboratory assistant; a few months ago when their daughter Patricia was born, Sedy took drugs to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby. Patricia’s HIV test at six weeks was negative and she seems healthy; she will be tested again when she is nine months old.