Ruth, a grade-12 student at Mumbwa High School in Kabwe, Zambia, is bright, energetic and has big dreams to be a teacher. But she also is blind and infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
She shares her story with an openness that belies her hopelessness a year ago.
Lacking proper care and support at home from her mother, a poor subsistence farmer, Ruth says she had dropped out of school and sought love and comfort in her boyfriend. She had sex with him, hoping he would love her more and marry her. But all he left her with was an empty promise and a deadly virus before he passed away. Ruth then started having headaches and sight problems which led to blindness. When she found out that she was infected with HIV, she went on anti-retroviral therapy.
Then something extraordinary happened. With the life-extending drugs, Ruth regained her health and the willpower to buck up and fight back the disease. She was offered a scholarship from the Community Health and Nutrition, Gender and Education Support Project (CHANGES-2), which pays for her tuition, books, and school uniform. Now she says: “I want to complete school, become a teacher, and contribute to the nation’s development…being positive does not mean I can’t perform well.”
Funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the CHANGES-2 scholarship program helps to keep nearly 3,500 AIDS-affected orphans and vulnerable children like Ruth in secondary school and encourages them to play an active role in HIV/AIDS prevention activities.
With a sense of pride and purpose in life, Ruth now feels she lives a normal life. “I am better off than others students who don’t even know their status,” she says.
Ruth has won the hearts and minds of her teachers, including the Student Alliance for Female Education (SAFE) Club warden, who is proud of Ruth for encouraging other students to know their status and live healthy. Ruth teaches other students what life has taught her: “Stay away from sex, know your status, and live long like me.”