After being diagnosed with HIV last June and disclosing his status to the public, Immanuel Sheefeni hit the ground running, to keep other young people from falling into the same ditch.
In what he describes as his previous life, he was that guy in the local bar, who would randomly take ladies to his place in pursuit of fun. Like most men, protecting himself with a condom was always the last thing on his mind whenever he was intoxicated.
His ways finally caught up with him. Thankfully, his awareness of his new status only turned him into a better person.
While waiting for a friend at the Katutura State Hospital, he decided to kill time by joining a HIV testing queue.
“It was finally my turn to go in and have the test and although I did not know what to expect, I found out I was HIV positive,” says Sheefeni.
However shocking, it took him just a few days to come to terms with his new status before telling the entire world in a Facebook post. Since then, sharing information about every aspect of HIV/Aids, particularly how to live with it, has become his mission.
“I came out because I wish to be a practical example that HIV/Aids is real and that positive living is possible,” explains Sheefeni.
Sheefeni sought to open up a centre in the heart of Katutura where he could offer counseling and more information to the masses about HIV/Aids. After applying, he was granted an office by the Tobias Hainyeko Constituency in Okuryangava and the Immanuel Sheefeni HIV Positively Living Center was established.
“My mission is to improve the lives of the people infected or affected by HIV and to foster a safe, open and supportive environment for the positive development of youth, to help reduce the impact and incidences of HIV on them,” Sheefeni says.
Although the center has been operational for several months now, it was officially opened through the help of Diaspora Publishers and Oluzizi World of Commerce on the 8th of this month.
Sheefeni now has two trained helpers, Victoria Vatileni and Ndapandula Shitemba, as well as a HIV positive volunteer.
The volunteer, who speaking under anonymity is referred to here as Lisa, was diagnosed with HIV in 2011. Lisa helps around the center to keep busy while she gets counseling from the team.
Unlike most people who contract the virus through promiscuity, her story is quite different.
“My aunt was in an abusive relationship. One night, while we were at home watching TV just before bedtime, she busted into our living room with stab wounds she had just incurred from her boyfriend. I tried to keep the blood from gushing all over the place by covering it up with a cloth, but some of it got into my bloodstream and that’s how I contracted HIV.” She was only 16.
After her diagnosis, the news she had shared only with close family members leaked into her neighbourhood and kids began taunting her at school to the point that it became unbearable. She eventually dropped out of school having completed Grade 7 with flying colours.
Now 18, Lisa seeks to return to school but wonders who will take care of her baby boy when she is gone.
Sheefeni’s personal assistant, Victoria Vatileni, explains, “When Lisa left school, she distanced herself from all her friends. It got tough for her to cope that she attempted suicide twice using her ARV pills. Her doctor then recommended that she stops taking them for a while. We want her to see there is still hope in life and we think her wanting to return to school is a positive sign.”
Sheefeni hopes the center grows to offer free counseling to more people, especially the youth, so they can dispel the stigma around the disease.
“It is 2014 and people should realise by now you can still live a healthy life despite being HIV positive. It is sad there are still adults today who believe you can catch the virus by touching an infected person. We do not want to see a young, bright girl dropping her education because of such ignorance,” Sheefeni asserts.
The best way to concur this stigma, Sheefeni advices, is for people who are HIV positive to accept and love themselves for who they are and only then, will they be able to deal with external negativity.