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Jerida in traditional dress

I was born in Pietersburg in 1959, the oldest of 2 brothers and 4 sisters. At times we did not have food to eat. My father built our house out of soil, the roof from grass. He worked far away in Mamelodi at the railway station. He had a an­other lady in Mamelodi and when he came home at the end of each month, sometimes he would buy us clothes, and sometimes there was no money for anything.

I didn’t go far in school, only to Grade 8, and then I stopped attending classes to help my mother. I started sewing in a factory and then in 1981 became a domestic worker because the money was better, R250 a month.

During this time, I had a boyfriend – he was bad, he used to get drunk and beat me. We had 3 children together. I found out he also had other girlfriends outside.

I left him in 1999 and then after a medical test I real­ised I was HIV +. By this time, my mother and father had passed away. I did not know what to do. I told my younger sister and she was ashamed. She took my two youngest children and put them in school. She told me “You have done nothing wrong. We still love you.” But at the same time she would tell my younger daughter,“ If you live like your mother you will end up HIV positive too.”

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Jerida (center, with sunglasses) with her Mother’s Club netball team.

Then I discovered the [Family Africa] Support Group. Coming to the support group has made my life happy. It helps to be in the group where everyone is HIV positive and I am free to talk. I told my family I am a strong woman and I want to live as long as God protects me. They have seen that you can be HIV positive and live a long life.

Now my life is much better. I am happy because I live a normal life. I took care of my daughter’s child while she attended college. And I have now found another to care for, a precious abandoned 3-day old baby who I adopted.

I struggled to climb the mountain but now I am on the other side of the mountain. And I think the storm is over. I feel happy and free.

Rachel Aird, the Project Manager of Family Africa HIV/AIDS Program, a FCF Project in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed this story and photos.