Despite Testing Positive For HIV, Surviving Sexual Abuse @17 and Attempting Suicide, Thelma Emerges A Victor

CATHERINE Murombedzi has known Thelma for three years. A youth in the Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition- Zimbabwe, (PAPWC-ZIM) and the Zimbabwe Women living with HIV National Forum (ZWLHNF), Thelma is unpredictable and can be happy this moment and withdrawn thereafter. Thelma avoids crowds and noise, usually taking a lone seat during tea breaks.

By Catherine Murombedzi, Health Correspondent

Unlike youths her age, she is more on the mature side and is selective, very selective when most people are happy to have a full plate of everything when buffet is served at a workshop, Thelma takes mostly greens and unprocessed food. I have never bothered to find out why, assuming she is watching her weight. There are times Thelma has sent a message on WhattApp to check on me.

Hie mommy, just checking if you well.” Rarely do I reciprocate the love, only remembering to do so after seeing she has viewed my status on the phone, do I check on Thelma. Her reply has been constant: “Am managing mommy, taking each day as it comes, hope you well, my love to my little sisters.”

Thelma is more than a survivor, she is a conqueror, a game changer. An insight into Thelma as she takes you into her life and where she intends to be in the future.

Thelma’s Story:

“MY name is Thelma Atiboke Tshuma (Aunty Thelma), a motivational speaker, counsellor, advocate for people living with HIV and an actress. I got to be the young lady I am today by the Grace of God.

Growing up, I was a sickling, which made me miss out on a lot since I was ill most of the time. This actually made me a bit stubborn, I really hated failure and did not accept being ill to affect my school performance. With motivation from my dad and brothers, I excelled in primary school. My health did not improve for the better in high school. I had skin problems with eczema up to Form Two.

I developed thick skin and it dampened my self-esteem. I hated looking in the mirror, I never wanted to get pictures taken, I got to hate my face. Despite all the challenges, the matrons at Monte Cassino Girls High School, my classmates and teachers were supportive. I just didn’t feel woman enough. I was so relieved when the eczema cleared.

In Form Four in 2010, a month before my exams my appetite just started acting up, I got to be so weak. The Nuns at school got worried and phoned my dad to take me home for medical attention. Our family doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong, till I got tested for HIV. I was diagnosed HIV positive. I couldn’t believe it, I demanded a re-test, my life crumbled immediately. I was a virgin, had no boyfriend, how could this have happened. My head couldn’t stop spinning, I was so confused, I did not understand why me, how?

My father later explained how there were complications when I was born, but still I asked myself why me? I really did not understand why it was pouring in this manner in my face at such a crucial time of my life. I had exams in weeks to come and this bombshell unleashed. It really hurt so much. All I could ask God was, Why me? I was the only one, out of the three children in our family, I was the only one. It hurt soo badly. I managed to go back to school weeks later after a series of asthma treatments. I was getting asthmatic attacks all the time.

I wrote my exams in my confused state and unfortunately I didn’t pass. I had to repeat my O Level at a day school near home, UMaaa institute in 2011. I had started my HIV treatment too then. At my second term when I was adjusting well to being at a day school, another storm came my way, I was sexualy abused by this man who worked near our school. In both situations I really wished my mom who had passed away in 2003 was alive.

I couldn’t understand really why this was happening to me, I had to deal with the trauma alone, it was a tough pill to swallow for my dad too. It was just a lot to deal with. The case was reported, it went to court but unfortunately on the second hearing the accused did not show up.

The following years were so tough, I tried to commit suicide a couple of times, I just couldn’t take it. My family then tried to support me, but I was in my own world. Depression took over, I would find myself cutting my wrists and harming myself to relieve the stress in my head. My blood pressure was so high even the doctors at the clinic where I get my pills got worried.

For a seventeen year old, it was too high. I couldn’t handle it all. I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and HIV induced dementia (memory loss problem). Then my dad had passed away, my brothers stood with me all the way. I really was about to give up on life. Failing O Level four times, the sexual abuse, HIV, the memory issues, being a full orphan, my brothers kept on encouraging me not to give up, just like my dad used to. I am so glad they did and still love me unconditionally.

Despite it all, I have managed to feature in five acting productions, with Reps Theatre, Tisu TV, Purple Berry, Invision and Quill. I have attended a couple of HIV workshops and still carry on to do my on independent advocacy as an individual. This all started with an article and a radio show interviews one Editor and radio presenter Tammy Collins from USA did of me, on Kish magazine and Tammy Collins Radio show.

In all of this chaos, I hung on to to God. I would get angry, cry lash out at myself, but would always remember to ask God to give me strength to keep pushing. Indeed, it hasn’t been easy, am glad I kept pushing, I am so so grateful to God for giving me strength to keep pushing. I am so grateful for the family and people he brought into my life who support and encourage me to keep pushing in faith, in my dreams despite what comes my way I have learnt to keep pushing no matter what!

Currently, I am a member of Zimpraise Choir which has been more than a blessing. I do online counselling and at times, one-on-one sessions. I still continue in advocacy, hoping that youths finding out that they are HIV positive today will not feel the way I did.

I have walked in the shadow of death many times, by His Grace I am still standing. My journey continues with Papa God and am hoping for the best, so I keep pushing. Even if you were born HIV positive, do not carry on asking why? Accept the status, keep pushing, the future certainly holds a bright place for you.

Get to be focused, open up, God remains God and is in control.

Hugs from Aunty Thelma, aged 25”

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