Zimbabwean HIV+ woman helps young people Choose Life

By staff writers
August 18, 2006

Zimbabwean HIV+ woman helps young people Choose Life

-18/08/06

Sophie Dilmitis suspected she was infected with HIV but her doctor told her that wasn't possible. "He told me not to be stupid. Young Zimbabwean women like me - white, healthy, middle class, not promiscuous - didn't get the virus." The doctor was wrong ñ writes Kristine Greenaway for Ecumenical International.

When she received the results of the test, she was both devastated and relieved. "Now I could do something about it. I wasn't quite sure what. But at least I knew, which was better than living in fear."

At first she hid her status. "Then I realised I had done nothing wrong, nothing that anyone else hadn't done. I realised that what other people thought had nothing to do with me."

In 2002, Dilmitis founded Choose Life, an education programme for young people about their right to have accurate information for their sexual and reproductive health. Dilmitis was worried about the stress on abstinence in HIV prevention programmes aimed at young people. It means "a lot of information is being held back about what they can do to keep themselves safe if they do decide to have a sexual relationship," she said. "Abstinence may be the way for some but it's not for everyone."

Although Dilmitis chose to reveal her HIV-positive status, she knows that not everyone is able to make the same choice. Her advice: "Know why you're doing it and don't do it without the support of family or friends." More than 7000 students in 29 schools in Zimbabwe have participated in Choose Life information sessions in the past four years.

Today Dilmitis is the HIV and AIDS coordinator for the Geneva-based World Young Women's Christian Association. Her mandate is to work with groups of women living with HIV and AIDS. That means organizing the Forum for Positive Women at the International Women's Summit on women's leadership and HIV and AIDS scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya in July 2007.

Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), recruited Dilmitis under the organization's policy of hiring HIV-positive women and ensuring their voices are heard at decision-making events where responses to the AIDS pandemic are planned. Said Kanyoro, "They can provide solutions they can live with. Young women don't want to be told what to do. They want to be part of finding the solution."

On 15 August 2006, at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada, the World YWCA launched ëIf I kept it to myselfí, a book jointly- produced with the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, and with the support of UNAIDS. Dilmitis is co-editor of the book of stories about young women who are working to alleviate suffering from AIDS and HIV.

The International AIDS Conference continues until 18 August. An online diary by Dilmitis from the conference can be found online.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

Zimbabwean HIV+ woman helps young people Choose Life

-18/08/06

Sophie Dilmitis suspected she was infected with HIV but her doctor told her that wasn't possible. "He told me not to be stupid. Young Zimbabwean women like me - white, healthy, middle class, not promiscuous - didn't get the virus." The doctor was wrong ñ writes Kristine Greenaway for Ecumenical International.

When she received the results of the test, she was both devastated and relieved. "Now I could do something about it. I wasn't quite sure what. But at least I knew, which was better than living in fear."

At first she hid her status. "Then I realised I had done nothing wrong, nothing that anyone else hadn't done. I realised that what other people thought had nothing to do with me."

In 2002, Dilmitis founded Choose Life, an education programme for young people about their right to have accurate information for their sexual and reproductive health. Dilmitis was worried about the stress on abstinence in HIV prevention programmes aimed at young people. It means "a lot of information is being held back about what they can do to keep themselves safe if they do decide to have a sexual relationship," she said. "Abstinence may be the way for some but it's not for everyone."

Although Dilmitis chose to reveal her HIV-positive status, she knows that not everyone is able to make the same choice. Her advice: "Know why you're doing it and don't do it without the support of family or friends." More than 7000 students in 29 schools in Zimbabwe have participated in Choose Life information sessions in the past four years.

Today Dilmitis is the HIV and AIDS coordinator for the Geneva-based World Young Women's Christian Association. Her mandate is to work with groups of women living with HIV and AIDS. That means organizing the Forum for Positive Women at the International Women's Summit on women's leadership and HIV and AIDS scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya in July 2007.

Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), recruited Dilmitis under the organization's policy of hiring HIV-positive women and ensuring their voices are heard at decision-making events where responses to the AIDS pandemic are planned. Said Kanyoro, "They can provide solutions they can live with. Young women don't want to be told what to do. They want to be part of finding the solution."

On 15 August 2006, at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada, the World YWCA launched ëIf I kept it to myselfí, a book jointly- produced with the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, and with the support of UNAIDS. Dilmitis is co-editor of the book of stories about young women who are working to alleviate suffering from AIDS and HIV.

The International AIDS Conference continues until 18 August. An online diary by Dilmitis from the conference can be found online.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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