Living with an HIV-positive partner is something that is frowned upon and misunderstood by many people. For Brenda Bacela, 33, living with her HIV-positive boyfriend has been one of the greatest challenges of her life, mostly because of the negative things voiced by people. Today, she is silencing those voices and proving that, with care, a normal life can be lived. Brenda tells us how Salesian Life Choices helped her and her family switch on the light to a healthy and prosperous life.
Brenda met the Salesian Life Choices team when the Health4Life mobile clinic visited her neighbourhood.
The Health4Life intervention provides friendly mobile HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) services to poorly resourced and “hard to reach” members of the Cape Flats communities. The intervention aims at reaching men, out of school youth, people who have never been tested, and those who dislike clinics.
For Brenda, going to the mobile clinic offered her an opportunity to get something she was always fearful of obtaining: her HIV status.
“I have always been too nervous to go to the clinic, as I thought that people would judge me. When I heard that Salesian Life Choices offered HIV counselling and testing I knew that I needed to take responsibility, and just get tested.”
“When I met the Health4Life counsellor he took me to the counselling room and informed me about the HIV test and the counselling procedures. Salesian Life Choices really helped me by giving me valuable information about how one gets the disease, and how I can prevent myself from getting it. For example, I didn’t know that HIV could also be spread through the blood. I thought that one could only get it through sexual intercourse. This information has assisted me to protect myself moving forward.”
“We spoke about my life, what was important to me, and what I wanted for my future. I told him that I was unemployed for the past 2 years and that my partner was HIV-positive. I mentioned that things were not going too well in my life and I was feeling quite despondant. He asked me what my dreams and aspirations were, the exercise made me connect with a part of myself I had forgotten.
“Afterwards, the counselor asked me if I was ready to receive my HIV test results and I told him I was. I was so relieved that I didn’t have the virus and that the precautions we were using were working.”
After receiving her test results, Brenda continued the discussion with the Health4Life counsellor. According to Brenda, one of her greatest struggles in her relationship is assisting her partner. “He told me about his HIV-positive status at the beginning of our relationship, and he was very depressed about it. I love him, so I did not mind but I didn’t know how to help him. People were cruel with the things that they would say about HIV+ people and I think little by little I was letting their voices have an effect on me.
The Health4Life counsellor explained in detail what it really meant for a person to live with HIV and the kind of support they need from people around them. He demystified many of the beliefs I had because I did not know better. He suggested that I could speak to my partner about writing down what he wanted in life, and that we should talk to each other about what we want from each other in our relationship. He also suggested we could join a support group to help us to deal with our emotional trauma.”
“I remember going home that same day and following through with what the counsellor had advised. We cried together when we spoke about what we wanted in our relationship and in our lives. My partner told me that no one had ever asked him about what he wanted in life and that he thought no one had really ever cared. It was such a good moment for us in our relationship. It was one of those rare moments in which he spoke about his life without getting depressed about his disease.”
Brenda adds that through the counselling she, too, has grown and is in a much better emotional space to assist her partner.
“It also made me think about my own goals – like going back to work and being a social worker. I’ve always wanted to work in communities and to help others.”
Today, Brenda lives life positively. She has a full time job as a waitress at a popular bakery in Cape Town. She has also joined her church’s outreach programme which goes into the local community and helps anybody in need of assistance. Brenda is also joyful about her engagement to her sweetheart.
Brenda’s curiosity about her HIV status brought her to the doors of Salesian Life Choices, but her desire to improve herself, and to assist her HIV-positive partner and her entire community is what has made all the difference in her life.
“I have learned many things about life through Salesian Life Choices. They have encouraged me to rediscover what it is I want in life, and have also given me the tools to live a healthy life with my partner.”
Brenda is proof that many women and men living with HIV-positive partners can live healthy, happy and fruitful lives, one positive step at a time.