When Angelique* tested positive for HIV three and a half years ago, she had already lost both her mother and stepmother to AIDS. Her younger brother also tested positive for HIV. The 19-year-old from the rural Rwinkwavu community in eastern Rwanda blamed her father for infecting her family.
After an initial grieving period, she came to terms with her status. She began antiretroviral therapy (ART) and started to attend the adolescent counseling group at Rwinkwavu Hospital in August 2007.
When Angelique first joined the adolescent counseling and support group, she harbored a lot of insecurities. She was uncomfortable with the realities of her diagnosis and was afraid of facing stigma and having others find out about her status. But thanks in large part to the holistic bio-psycho-social curriculum and the support of an HIV-positive peer group, she overcame her fears and is now the leader of the adolescent girls’ Saturday counseling group.
Angelique leads the group in song and drumming and assists the nurse and social worker in educating her peers as well as in directing field trips. Her confidence and willingness to share her experiences with the group has inspired other young women to talk about living with HIV and coping with stigma. She now presents herself as an example of how to take care of oneself and often shares her struggles with opportunistic infections with her peers to teach them how to stay healthy and manage their HIV.
Angelique is currently in her second year of a secondary school at a boarding school in Kigali, where her teachers support both her health and her learning.
She remains more comfortable with peers in her counseling group than others her age; she is anxious about relatives and members of her community at her school or elsewhere finding out her status. Even so, she has come a long way.
Once she completes secondary school, Angelique will transition into an Adult HIV support group, where the nurses are confident that she will flourish. She has already exhibited the capacity to manage her own health and has been a valuable resource to other HIV-positive adolescents learning to care for themselves.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the patient.