11 January 2013

Namibia: Overcoming HIV Stigma and Discrimination

A volunteer in Namibia for the last 20 years who has been assisting people living with HIV says she still experiences stigma and discrimination on a daily basis.

The 55-year-old former teacher, who also takes care of orphans and vulnerable children and operates a bakery to supplement the little financial support she receives, says people in her neighbourhood would rather walk long distances to buy bread from retailers, whom they feel are not associated with the HIV virus.

However, when these same people want to purchase bread, rolls or muffins on credit then they opt to approach her first. "This is the discrimination we deal with on a daily basis", said Meme Saima Nangula Sheetekela-Petrus who runs the 'Together We Can Make It' support group in Windhoek's Freedomland.

With assistance received from the US Embassy a few years ago she opened a bakery at her residence in 2009. The products produced in the bakery are used to supplement her meagre income and to distribute to people living with HIV free of charge to enable them to safely ingest their medicine.

However, many people in the neighbourhood have the outrageous notion that it is dangerous to buy bread from Meme Sheetekela, because they are afraid to become infected with the virus. "It is astonishing that in this day and age people still make these assumptions," said Meme Sheetekela.

The support provided by the organisation includes mental, physical and educational support to enable people living with HIV to sustain themselves. While Meme Sheetekela is not employed full-time at the moment she has completed numerous courses that have prepared and trained her to be able to provide the much-needed support in her community.

With these qualifications she is able to provide a day-care centre for children, as well as run the bakery and a small shop, but funding is a major concern. "At the moment we rely on donations made by good Samaritans. I am not doing this to make money but to help my community and the nation," explained Meme Sheetekela.

During December last year the organisation received a much-needed boost of N$20 000 from the Noshisha Fishing Company as part of the company's social upliftment scheme. However, much more is needed since Meme Sheetekela is looking to expand her organisation to assist more people living with the virus and as many orphans and vulnerable children as she can.

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