Jack is humble about his dance moves: “People tell me I’m a good dancer but that’s not something I can know myself.” Growing up, he used to watch Michael Jackson’s videos on the neighbourhood TVs and run home to practice the moves. “I felt like I was the son of Michael Jackson,” he laughs.
At Dignitas International’s Teen Club, a space where adolescents living with HIV gather for community support and counselling, Jack teaches other teen club members how to breakdance.
Teen club is held monthly on Saturday afternoons in Zomba, Malawi. It is here that adolescents come to play sports and music. They also learn about how to take care of themselves and talk about the challenges they’re facing.
“They teach you lessons like how you can live in a community and relate to others,” says Jack. “I know how to take care of myself when I’m sick and I know how to get help when I need it.”
Jack’s mother took him to the hospital when he was a young child because he wasn’t sleeping well. Based on his symptoms, health workers tested him for HIV and he tested positive. But little Jack didn’t get it. “Why is it me going to the hospital every, every, every day?” he would ask his mom.
But once Jack started antiretroviral medicine in 2005, “all the things started going back to normal,” he says. The sadness and anxiety on Jack’s mother’s face also slipped away. “I’m happy seeing my mom like how she is now.”
But it wasn’t until Jack started going to teen club that he understood what his mom had been feeling. “Mostly the counsellors helped me,” he says. “This wasn’t a choice but I know I can live with it. It is good knowing.”
Jack remains close with his mom and two older sisters. “We chat a lot,” he says of his mom. “She teaches me how to cook. We play games like chess.”
After talking with this chatty, at times philosophical, breakdancing teenager, it’s surprising to hear him say he wants to be an accountant in the future. Then he explains his rationale: “My uncle is an accountant, and myself, I just want to be like him. He’s helping my mom and grandma. I want to be able to help them like they did for me when they were raising me.”
Thanks to our donors, Dignitas’s Teen Club is helping teens like Jack live positively with HIV.