When I lost my mother as an 11-year-old, I became determined to beat HIV

With the support of the National Network of Youth and Adolescents living with HIV/AIDS, this young man rewrites his story; one filled with dreams and life.

By Elisa Meirelles Reis, UNICEF Brazil
© UNICEF Brasil/2018/J. Laet
UNICEF Brasil/2018/J. Laet
03 July 2018

“My mom found out she had AIDS little after I was born. She had already been breastfeeding me and I contracted the virus. I started treatment when I was 6. She was always there, making sure I was taking every medication on time. She wanted me to take care of myself, but wasn’t as vigilant about her own treatment.

We stayed together until I was 11, when she died. My world collapsed. I was sent off to live with my grandparents in Maranhão. I stayed there for some time until my dad brought me back to Pará. I stopped taking my meds with regularity and I got sick. I was hospitalized and wound up in critical condition: I almost died. An aunt of mine realised what I was going through and decided to adopt me.

That’s when things started to change. My city has a support group for teens and youth living with HIV. The psychologist and social worker there heard about me and came to talk to me. They wanted to invite me to take part in their group. I had suffered an enormous loss and told them I’d try. It wasn’t easy to live without my mom and take those medicines alone day after day.

After my first meeting, I decided to join the group. I gave it my all. It had been two months that I was living with my aunt and I’d started to get better. I had gained weight and was slowly rebuilding my self-esteem. I was so well received, I decided to stay.

The coordinator explained that our group was part of a Network supported by UNICEF’s “Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem” (Youth Aware project). She told me there’d be a meeting of all the groups in Tocantins and asked if I’d like to go. I said yes straight away! The days we spent in Palmas were essential to me. Listening to the stories of other youth, I was able to attain more consistency in my own treatment and medication. We learned to take care of ourselves together.

Now I’m 15, in my first year of middle school. The journey has not been easy. After my mom died, my schooling became a mess. I was about to finish primary school when I moved, got hospitalized -- I lost so much time and fell behind on a lot of material. I knew I couldn’t be left behind. Two years later I’ve been able to catch up and make up for lost time. Now, it’s all good.

The only thing I haven’t been able to do is tell anyone in school about my condition. When I lived with my mom, she’d talk to the principal and explain the care they’d need to provide for me. Now that she’s not there, nobody has talked to the teachers and I’m not ready to tell them either. When we have lessons about HIV/AIDS, I do my best to distance myself so as to not raise any suspicion. I’m afraid of being judged; of not being accepted.

A while ago I broke up with a girl. We never had sex and I didn’t tell her about my condition; I wasn’t ready to talk about it. She was my first girlfriend, and it was a new experience for me. It’s something I can talk about in the support group, that’s where I have a space to talk about life, tell others about my experiences and find the support I need.

I’m sure I’ll be ready to be more open about my condition someday. I can’t go through life hiding from my friends, my peers, and, most importantly, the family I hope to have someday. I’m sure that someday I’ll find the strength to tell someone about it.”

About Youth Aware Project - The project’s main objectives are to make HIV tests more easily accessible to people between the ages 15-24, make sure youth living with the virus receive proper treatment and stick to it, and to provide access about virus prevention and contraction. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of kids aged 15-19 living with HIV increased by 68% between 2005 and 2015. In the 20-24 age group, the increase was of 47% in the same time period.

*Names were omitted to protect the identity of participants.