By Tendai Sahondo
SHE walks around in a barren maize field picking up dry leaves, her three toddlers follow her around, oblivious to their mother’s deteriorating mental health. Wielded in her hands is a stick to scare away friends and strangers that might interrupt her senseless routines, no one dares, her bashing escapades are well known in the dusty streets of Nyabira. She looks at us with sinister eyes, scrutinizes us for a minute then continues her leaf picking routine.
Sophie (pseudonym) suffers from the twin misfortune of HIV and mental illness, making her life unimaginably unbearable. To make matters worse, she lives in a dingy pigsty, surrounded by the disgusting snotty animals that give her no sleep. Much like the biblical anecdotal parable of the prodigal son, Sophie is living on that blurry line between life and death.
However, today is a different day for Sophie as a team from the Disability HIV and Aids Trust (DHAT) has paid her a visit. Their mission: to understand her needs, offer support and leave a handful of groceries.
The DHAT team is unperturbed by Sophie’s violent nature, neither are they discouraged by reports that their emissary to Sophie had escaped death by a whisker earlier in the day. Amidu, the DHAT Community Based Facilitator had gone to advice Sophie on our impending visit, only to provide some much-needed laughter for the economically hard pressed Nyabira villagers who witnessed poor Amidu scurry away for dear life while an enraged Sophie gave chase, machete in hand.
In an interview with The Business Connect at the sidelines of the visit, DHAT Executive Director, Phillimon Simwaba said People with Disabilities (PWDs) and HIV encounter multiple challenges.
“It is difficult for PWDs with HIV to access medication, as they might be staying far from the medical centre. PWDs also face discrimination from their families, especially if they find out that they are HIV positive. They assume that PWDs are not supposed to have partners, however in most cases it is the family members and community neighbours that inflict abuse resulting in PWDs contracting HIV.
“In response to their plight, DHAT is raising awareness among PWDs on HIV. We encourage them to know their status and know where to get medication. We are also educating PWDs on their rights and whom they can contact when they have been abused. Furthermore, we are training communities and service providers on how to interact with PWDs. We have directed significant efforts towards assisting service providers on how best they can tailor make their services to cater for the needs of PWDs,” he said.
Simwaba called on government and the development community to channel more resources towards PWDs as they need extra care and support. He applauded Zimbabwe for being one of the first African countries to enact a disability focused law. He however said more needs to be done as the country is now lagging behind.
Adorning brave faces, the Executive Director and his team approached Sophie in the barren maize fields to deliver their groceries and render support. Noting the noble gesture, Sophie let down her guard and had a brief chat with the team.
A place to stay and an acre to till were Sophie’s humble pleas.