Lerato hasn’t had an easy life.
After Lerato contracted HIV from her husband, her sister died of AIDS at the age of 30. In addition to raising her own two children, who are HIV-negative, Lerato cares for the three children her sister left behind, two boys now 13 and 16 and an 11-year-old girl. All of them are HIV-positive.
Pact’s Government Capacity Building and Support program, or GCBS, first visited Lerato’s family after the children failed to pick up their antiretroviral HIV medication from a local clinic in Inanda, a township in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Funded by USAID and PEPFAR, GCBS is building the capacity of South Africa’s Department of Social Development to better support orphans and vulnerable children. Specifically, the project is strengthening the department’s response to HIV.
“When I got there, I saw that the house was dirty and one of the three kids had not been going to school,” explains Thando Ngeleka, a GCBS social worker who took on the family’s case.
To try to cover her family’s basic needs, Lerato works full time as a housekeeper in Durban. The job left her little time to take care of her house or make sure her nieces and nephews were adhering to their HIV treatment.
“It was a blessing in disguise that these children did not fetch their treatment that month, because then we could see there were deeper issues and this family really needed guidance and support,” says Sinothile Msomi, a provincial program manager for GCBS.
Ngeleka explained to Lerato how important it is to ensure her children take their medication every day, eat well and maintain their hygiene. She also told Lerato about the various assistance GCBS could provide her, including support to improve her family’s antiretroviral adherence and to disclose to the HIV-positive children their status and what it means. Lerato had told them that their medication was important but not why.
Ngeleka helped Lerato disclose to the children that they are HIV-positive and connected them to other services to get them on track.
“She helped me to communicate better with the kids and to be more aware of their health and hygiene,” Lerato says. “I love Thando so much. If I have a problem, I talk to her.”
Today, Lerato’s children all work together to live a better life. They keep themselves and their home clean. Everyone who is HIV-positive takes their medication as scheduled. The kids are eating more and all are attending school.
Last year, GCBS reached more than 197,000 children across South Africa with comprehensive social services. In KwaZulu-Natal alone, 66,800 vulnerable children have received services.
Lerato now looks forward with hope.
“My dream for my children’s future is that they finish school and study further. My niece wants to be a doctor and my youngest child wants to be a social worker,” she says.
“The children have motivated me to also look after myself. I have to be the strong one.”
Note: Lerato’s name was changed for this story to protect her family’s privacy.