A mattress, a stove, a cupboard; clothes for her three children and her teenaged sister and brother. Beaming with pride, Beatrice Zulu lists the items she has purchased with her pay from The ABATAKA Collection. The project, she says, has changed her family’s life. The children look up to her as a breadwinner, able to provide. And in her community, Beatrice says, “People see me as a person now.”
It wasn’t always so. Beatrice, 36, knows well the stigma and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS: Though she cared for her sister Patricia until her death in 2002, her sister only told Beatrice on her deathbed that she had AIDS. Because Beatrice knew her husband had been sexually active outside their marriage, when she became pregnant in 2002, she took an HIV test – but told no one it came back positive. She enrolled in a clinic program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; her baby was born HIV-negative but lived only a year.
After divorcing her husband, Beatrice struggled to raise her children alone despite increasing bouts of illness. In 2005, a new clinic opened near her; she discreetly started on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and began attending HIV-positive support groups. When Beatrice’s father learned where she went every day, he revealed her status to the community and drove her from her home. Unable to pay rent, Beatrice stayed with whomever would house her; she drew comfort from the support group, volunteering as a peer counselor.
In 2006, Beatrice joined the jewelry project. Today, she lives in a two-room house with electricity, has money to pay her children’s school fees – and even has opened her home to her father, now blind and very ill. “It is hard to have him here,” she says, “but he is starting to understand” and to appreciate all she has achieved. In mid-2008, she found paid work as an HIV/AIDS counselor.
Beatrice feels strongly the importance of educating her community about HIV/AIDS, and empowering Zambia’s women through enterprises such as The ABATAKA Collection. “I am so proud of this project,” she says. “I promise I will never stop.”
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