“I love that the mums I help are one big family… I meet some of them in town and we'll catch up and they'll tell me their child is HIV negative and attending school… it makes me proud to see what a great job I'm doing.”
When Velna first discovered that she was HIV positive, it came as a massive shock. At just 18 years old, and pregnant with her first child, it was a scary and difficult thing to come to terms with, and Velna’s biggest fear was that she would pass the virus on to her new baby.
South Africa, where Velna lives, has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with more than 7.5 million people living with HIV.
Women are disproportionately affected by the virus in South Africa. In 2017, it was estimated that 26% of women aged 15-49 are living with HIV, compared to around 15% of men of that age.
Thankfully, Velna was referred to a Comic Relief-funded project called mother2mothers, which supports mothers and families affected by HIV. Through the project, Velna found a peer-to-peer support group of other women who are all living with HIV and trained to educate and support families within their community. They are known as Mentor Mothers.
Velna learned to manage her health and come to terms with her status, and was guided through the process of ensuring that her baby was born free from HIV.
In 2012, Velna trained to become a Mentor Mother herself, and has dedicated that last nine years of her life to helping other women who are going through the same thing.
VELNA'S STORY OF HOPE
“I fell pregnant when I was 18. I went to the health clinic and they talked to me about knowing my status, so I took a test. That is when I tested HIV positive. It was a complete shock.
“Everything stopped. I felt like I was losing my mind… I was so young, about to turn 19… My main concern was my child.
“Then the counsellors at the clinic referred me to mothers2mothers. The ladies there introduced themselves to me and told me they were mentor mothers and that they were also HIV positive. They had fallen pregnant while they were HIV positive, but their children came out HIV negative.
“I didn't understand how that was possible… I really thought my child would be HIV positive because I was."
“I'm really grateful for mothers2mothers. If it wasn't for them, I don't know if I would've accepted my status. It's because of them that I can speak freely."
SUPPORT NOT STIGMA
“Nomsa, a Mentor Mother, talked to me and shared her status… [she] emphasised how important it is to keep taking the treatment and she explained the procedures, like taking medicine at a certain time.
“mothers2mothers truly did educate and support me. I felt more free with them. I took the right steps to keep my child HIV-free, [and] with mothers2mothers’ help, I’m proud to say my boy is HIV-free today."
“I like challenges and I like doing new things. I am not the kind of person that says: ‘I can’t do this’. So, in 2012 I trained to be a Mentor Mother for mothers2mothers.”
THOSE IMPORTANT FIRST YEARS
“We had someone who trained us, and she didn't care that we were HIV positive, she didn't stigmatise us, she supported us.
“At times we'd just sit and talk… we'd just say how we feel, so that we could prepare ourselves to talk to other women… When people share their stories, it makes it easy for you to share as well. You slowly open up about your story.
“For me it was very exciting, and it was my first time working in my life.
“Today, as part of my work I host young mums’ clubs, play groups and do home visits. At the young mums’ clubs, I educate, explaining how important those first years are. It makes a difference that I can tell my clients that I was still young when I had my first-born… I tell them about my struggles.
“I did training about communicating with babies…That really did help my own kids… I wouldn’t be such a confident mum to my two boys without mothers2mothers."
“Being HIV positive doesn’t stop you.”
Through the Flying Start Partnership, Comic Relief and British Airways supports mothers2mothers to help thousands of mothers and children in South Africa and Ghana.
Using their successful community and family-centred approach, mothers2mothers offers vital support to mothers affected by HIV, enabling them to give their children the best possible start in life.
Millions of children all over the world experience barriers to their development as happy, healthy and confident individuals. This can have devastating consequences for their lives, their communities and for future generations to come.
Each year around the world, it is estimated that more than five million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable and treatable causes. It is also estimated that almost half of children under 5 in low- and middle income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential.
With your donations Comic Relief helps support families and communities in the UK and around the world to meet the needs of young children so they are given the best possible start in life.