How Positive Women began, in the words of one of our founders Kathryn Llewellyn:
I met Siphiwe in 2005 and she told me her inspirational story and inspired me to act.
Back in 2000 Siphiwe had earned a scholarship to study for a degree in agriculture in the UK. Part of the scholarship process at that time required Siphiwe to have a HIV test. She told me that when she went to see the doctor he said,
“I’m sorry Siphiwe but you won’t be studying in the UK”.
The scholarship was not valid for anyone who was HIV positive, as back then it was viewed as a bad investment. Siphiwe went home and told her husband and as is the case for many Swazi women that reveal their positive status, was thrown out of her home and blamed for bringing the virus there.
Unlike most, the amazing Siphiwe was not going to accept that and so, she got together with a group of 5 other women and acted. They started a support group, which then consistent of just those 5 women and now stands at over 5000 women across Swaziland.
When Siphiwe invited me to Swaziland, I bit her hand off and was there a very short while after we’d met. I remember driving, down a dirt track, over a bush or two and through a river, to a rural school and having swarms of children rush on over. It’s always amazing to be around excited children and so we were playing with them and chatting to the teachers, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boy that changed my life.
He was sat under a tree in the distance and I asked Siphiwe who it was. She told me his name was Sibusiso and he was 8 years old and very sick. We went over to him and I saw he was covered in scabies, painfully thin, with a massive swollen tummy and wouldn’t look up or speak. Siphiwe told me that he was an orphan and that he lived with his grandfather, who they suspected was abusing him and his sister. They also thought he was HIV positive and so would not live very long.
I’d never seen an 8 year old with such little hope and such deep sadness and I was filled with an overwhelming desire to protect this little boy, who had to suffer so much. So I decided to do something about it and enlisted the help of my amazing mother and sister and Positive Women was born.
So that’s how it all began and over the years we’ve developed a number of different programs, including paying for school fees for orphans, setting up income generation projects, providing legal support and feeding programs for the rural communities in Swaziland.
I’ve lived and worked in many countries across Africa and so I often get asked, why Swaziland. Swaziland is a country just next to South Africa, has a population of 1million and a country that most of the world has never heard about. It also has some of the most appalling statics that I want to share with you now:
These are statistics that just shouldn’t exist. When I talk about Swaziland, I often get the response, “well Kathryn its just a million people” and I always reply “yes exactly, it’s just a million people”. It’s a country that we can actually have an impact in and make a change that will inspire the world, by showing that change is possible.
I just want to finish with one final story.
The last time I went to Swaziland, late last year, I visited a rural home of a Swazi grandmother, who was looking after two children. We were sat with her, when the children came home from school and came sprinting over, laughing and smiling. They gave me a massive hug and started chattering about school and football and proudly handed me their school reports - with of course A’s all round.
One of those children was Sibusiso - that little boy who was sat under a tree all those years ago