When Credo, a Malawian single mother of four, learned she was HIV+ in 2006, she was shocked and upset. But knowing the truth was important to her and she made a decision to not let fear or stigma prevent her from living her life and raising her children.
Today Credo has an eight year-old son named Sam, who is both energetic and articulate. They live together with Sam’s other siblings, Hendrina, Thoko and Vincent, in a rural village of Govala in Malawi.
Sam is a bit shy at first but quickly warms up to the people he meets. He is in grade 2 and attends a local primary school. He already has ideas of what he wants to do when he finishes his education. Like his father, he wants to serve in the military.
“I want to be a soldier,” he says, holding a small pet kitten in his palm.
Sam’s father, a solder serving in the Malawi Defence Forces, divorced Credo when she told him that she been tested for HIV at a local clinic and had received a positive test result. Credo had decided to get tested because her husband had been unfaithful.
“During our courtship, my husband told me that his former wife had committed suicide,” shares Credo. The truth, which was that she had died of HIV/AIDS, was only revealed to Credo after she had been married.
She urged her husband to seek HIV testing but every time he rebuked her and threatened to end their marriage. Over the course of the relationship, Credo noted her husband’s promiscuity and in 2006 was fed up. She took her children and moved in with her parents. That same year, she got tested and started lifesaving treatment.
At first, she feared for her children’s future, especially if she and her parents were to die. But she takes her antiretroviral drugs daily and has noticed a great improvement in her health. Credo is also open about her status. Her children, family, and even the community know that she is living with HIV. Despite his young age, Sam understands what having the virus means and plays an instrumental role in ensuring that his mother takes the drugs regularly.
“I sometimes carry the bottles containing the drugs to my mum and ask her ‘have you already taken your drugs today?’”, says Sam.
Credo recalls the day she told Sam about her HIV status: “I remember he came home from school asking if I was HIV+ because he had heard his friends talking about it. When I confirmed that it was true, he looked concerned.”
With the passage of time, Sam has adapted to this reality and now supports his mother as much as possible. He helps around the house by fetching water and sweeping the floor to give his mother a chance to rest.
When Credo learned she was HIV+ there was a lot of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in her community. But that didn’t stop her from helping others to know the truth about the disease. When the opportunity arose to participate in a community drama project about HIV/AIDS with the Art and Global Center Africa (AGHCA), she jumped at the chance.
Known as MASA (Make Art/Stop AIDS), the project engages people who are both HIV+ and HIV- to work together in developing a drama which explores fear, stigma, discrimination and other barriers to HIV treatment and care in rural communities. The drama is written and performed by community members like Credo.
“My main inspiration is to remove fears that people have about HIV. Stigma and discrimination still exists in this area but it has improved due to intensified advocacy,” affirms Credo. She learned about the drama project through a friend.
Credo has seen firsthand how the project has transformed her community.
“There were instances when some people would discredit and laugh at me for doing this. I chose not to care about their actions but focus on what is helpful in life. Now I have learned that most of those who used to laugh at me are now on treatment and they do it secretly,” says Credo.
As part of our 10th anniversary, Dignitas International is partnering with AGHCA and filmmaker Tom Gibb to adapt one of the drama performances into an educational film. Similar to the drama project, the film will be used to spark a dialogue about the subject. After each screening, AGHCA facilitators will lead a discussion for a deeper look into the challenges and to explore potential solutions. Local villages chiefs will also play an important role and will be encouraged to enact local laws to fight stigma and discrimination. The film will be shown in six Malawian villages later this year.
Sam has seen his mother perform in many dramas and supports the project. “I enjoy seeing my mum make other people laugh,” says Sam, as he smiles adoringly at Credo. The affectionate mother-son bond between Credo and Sam is palpable and is a testament to the fact that together, with love, we can overcome the fear and stigma of AIDS.