Gaborone, 4 November 2009 (PLUSNEWS) - Katlego Lally*, 17, belongs to a club for HIV-positive teenagers run by the Baylor Children’s Clinic Centre of Excellence in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. She talked to IRIN/PlusNews about how the club has helped her overcome feelings of isolation and depression.
"I was born in 1992. Back then, there was no PMTCT [prevention of mother-to-child transmission] so I got the [HI-]virus from my mother, but I wasn’t diagnosed then. I just grew up falling sick every time, and we didn’t know why.
"In 2003 we did some tests and then they found out that I had the virus, and my mother also. I don’t think I understood at that time ... But as time went by I came to understand the disease, and that’s when I told my brain : ’Okay, this is a death sentence’, and that’s when I became depressed.
"I remember in 2007, I was falling sick often and my exams were about to come, so I was a bit down, always just kicking myself - ’Why ? Why me ? What have I done ?’ - I was just living in a dark tunnel, waiting for the day I would die.
"Then last year I was referred to Baylor [Children’s Clinic] and that’s when I think my life changed. The doctor told me about Teen Club ; then I came and I saw a whole new world that I never knew.
"I didn’t realize - I thought it was just me - but I saw a whole lot of excited and happy teenagers, and I also got that energy, that positive thinking, from them.
"This year I was elected to be a [Teen Club] leader. I have to be a role model to the younger teen members, I help with serving lunch, lead ice-breakers and train other teen leaders from satellite clubs.
"I’ve made a lot of friends - they’re like my family. Everyone is open with each other, because when you’re in the same situation you understand each other. We don’t normally talk about HIV or medications here in Teen Club ; we sometimes go on trips, listen to music, or sometimes we get life skills.
"Being a teenager is very hard - you have to keep up with the changing life, do what the others do. My school friends don’t know [about being HIV-positive], but just like most people here generally in Botswana, especially teachers when they talk about HIV, they bring it up in a whole negative way.
"I have friends who drink, who have sex, and sometimes you try to tell them : ’this is not good’. But how are you going to make them understand ? You’d maybe have to start by saying, ’I’m HIV positive and you don’t want to be HIV-positive’, and that would be like, ugh, so I just leave it.
"Teen Club helps me. I know I don’t have to go to the bar and drink alcohol, I don’t need drugs to get me high, because I have a happy life and I have a lot of goals for myself. First of all I want to be a lawyer, but if not law, then radio journalism, and if not, then accounting ... or I want to be a movie star.
"I go on dates, but sometimes I can just be out of the dating mode. I want a person I can spend the rest of my life with, but when the time comes for us to maybe have sex, how am I going to disclose my status ?
"You never know what they’ll think. What if that person is not that trustworthy ? Once you tell him he’ll get really angry and start to spread rumours about you, so I just have to leave it.
"Right now I’m writing my final exams so after then, that’s when I’ll start seeing what to do. If I fall in love with someone who’s negative, I’ll see if I disclose my status to that person, how they will react."
*Not her real name