An exploration of the experiences of four Indian women living with HIV/AIDS in the Chatsworth area.
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All over the world HIV/ AIDS has created a new stigma and discrimination, bigotry and ignorance that have resulted in a new class of outcasts. AIDS 2000 will break the silence on this affront to human dignity. This was the theme of the XIII Annual AIDS Conference held in Durban in 2000. Fours years later, there is little evidence of this reality. There are communities of people living with HIV/ AIDS that still live lives cloaked in secrecy. HIV/ AIDS is not losing momentum. HIV/ AIDS has infected 50 million, and killed 16 million since the epidemic began (The Mercury,19 May 2000). In Africa, HIV positive women now outnumber infected men by two million. Recognition of the potentially devastating effects the disease could have, took place very slowly, in Africa. It is only since the middle to late nineteen eighties that a general understanding has established itself in society of how imp ortant the fight against HIV/ AIDS will be. In South Africa the dramatic transition to democracy in the early nineteen nineties meant that political considerations had to be given priority. In 1997, the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) cabinet launched an initiative to bring public attention to the effects the epidemic would have on our society. In 1999 this was followed up with the Cabinet's AIDS Challenge 2000 strategy which was to have been be funded to the extent of R20 million per year (The Mercury, 19 May 2000). HIV / AIDS has established itself at pandemic levels in the province of KZN (The Mercury, 19 May 2000). Uno fficial figures of people living with HIV/ AIDS stand at 40%. This has huge implications for education as it is stated that there will be at least 750 000 orphans- children with no parents in KZN by 2010 (The Mercury, 19 May 2000). This means that educators who are already burdened with responsibility will have to respond in direct and indirect ways to the pandemic. The researcher in this study has lived in Umhlatuzana, a suburb on the outskirts of Chatsworth for the past twenty years. I teach History and Life skills at a secondary school in Chatsworth. Since the introduction of Outcomes Based Education in 2000, HIV/ AIDS has become a part of the Life Orientation programme. My interest in HIV/ AIDS grew with the launch of the Government initiated Tirisano project - an HIV/ AIDS awareness initiative . As HIV-AIDS coordinator, my duties included teaching learners about HIV/ AIDS awareness and about the causes and prevention of HIV/ AIDS through responsible behaviour. Accordingly, I have set up a school HIV/ AIDS committee made up of both learners and staff, drafted and implemented a School AIDS Policy and held workshops at school. As the HIV/ AIDS coordinator I have attended many training workshops and seminars in and around Chatsworth. This exposure to issues concerning HIV/ AIDS, together with available literature has led me to conclude that HIV/ AIDS is still very much a taboo subject, even among so called 'enlightened educators'. Due to the scarcIty of available literature regarding Indians! living with HIV/ AIDS and according to The Mail and Guardian, because media representations and billboards depict Black, White or Coloured but no Indian repr esentations of people living with HIV/ AIDS, many Indians still think that it is someone else's disease, or 'that sickness' (02 December 2003). While stud ying the module 'Diversity and Education' at Masters level, I began to understand that being an HIV/ AIDS coordinator was much more than teaching learners about HIV / AIDS awarene ss of prevention and modes of transmission. The module 'Diversity and Education' was designed to develop a deeper understanding of the critical issues and skills required to create safe and inclusive schools for learners and educators who are living with and are affected by HIV/ AIDS. Through the Diversity and Education module I developed a raised understanding of the negative impact of HIVism on the lives of people living with HIV/ AIDS. According to Francis, HIVism refers to the negativetreatment meted out to people living with HIV/ AIDS (2004). Altho ugh the Department of Education has to be applauded in creating an awareness of the epidemic, there is concern that an important area of HIV/ AIDS has been neglected: The issues regarding human rights and HIV/ AIDS. It was especially during the Diversity and Education sessions togeth er with related literature that I discovered that globally, many women have negative experiences of living with HIV/ AIDS. An article that appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Herald (07 December 2003) prompted my research . It was a stolY of an Indian woman, Theresa Naidoo, who was HIV positive. In her story she communicates her experiences of betrayal, prejudice and discrimination. Her sto ry has inspired the research er to explore the experiences of other Indian women living with HIV/ AIDS. The researcher contac ted the Chatswo rth HIV/ AIDS coordinator, Kogie David, who is based at the Chatsworth Child and Family Welfare Centre . She coordinates the HIV/ AIDS counselors in the Chatsworth district. The researcher explained the nature of her research study and was informed that there were many women like Theresa, living with HIV/ AIDS.