Feature Story

A Young HIV Activist Joins UNFPA’s Youth Advisers

5 April 2016
Thabitha photo

“I started being sick at 10 years old….. I found out I was HIV positive at 14”.

Tabitha is a 21 year old member of the UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) and a HIV activist from Zanzibar.

“When I found out what was making me sick, I was so scared. I didn’t know what the future would be like. There was a lot of stigma and I was bullied at school because of it. Thankfully, I had access to the Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) that are available at Zanzibar care and treatment clinics and started taking them immediately.”

At 15 years old, Tabitha joined the Children’s Club at ZAPHA+, the Zanzibar Association for People Living with HIV and AIDS. This is a psycho-social support club for children infected with, or affected by HIV who can share their experiences and receive education and training.

“Before the Children's Club, I was lost and didn't know what to do.  Through attending the meetings with other kids, sharing ideas, discussing, studying, it gave me confidence to stand up to the stigma that is out there. It gave me confidence in myself. I went on to become a facilitator at the Club.

“Stigma in Zanzibar society is stifling. People believe all sorts of myths that only make the problem of HIV and AIDS worse. I know now that people can live a normal life on ARVs and that there is hope for HIV positive people.”

With her experience, especially as a Children’s Club facilitator, Tabitha was among 20 successful candidates, including seven from Zanzibar, who were recruited in December 2015 a member of UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) which provides advice to UNFPA”s policy and programmes.    

“When I found out that I was to become a UNFPA Youth Advisor, I was so happy. After years in ZAPHA+, I felt that YAP was a chance to bring my knowledge and experience from ZAPHA+ to advising UNFPA on all youth issues, including HIV. The ZAPHA+ office said they were proud of me and that I was a role model to all.”

The UNFPA Youth Advisory Panel was set up in 2004 with the aim of increasing youth participation in our programmes. In return for their advice, the YAPs are provided with training on leadership and advocacy, especially around sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“UNFPA has given me a great opportunity as a Youth Advisor. After receiving training by UNFPA, I attended numerous policy and programme meetings and events with UNFPA and its partners, giving a voice to youth, especially HIV positive youth. Also, I participated in training on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) supported by UNFPA last year. This training really helped me understand what SRHR really means, and how I can protect myself and others. Young people need this type of knowledge and skills, they need access to family planning; without it they can really hurt themselves without knowing. If you don’t know these things, you may not be able to protect yourself.”

“As well as being exposed to the risk of HIV, young women are at risk of teenage pregnancy and high adolescent maternal death rates. If young people know their rights, and know where to access the right services, it benefits everyone. “

“In general YAP has been a great experience since I started in December. I was nervous at first but when I met the others, we all began to learn from each other which gave me confidence. We are all supportive, cooperative, hardworking, and enthusiastic. YAP is all about youth empowerment – together we are one!”

UNFPA”s HIV programme supports the government of Tanzania's National HIV Response & Prevention plan in both in mainland and Zanzibar; this includes supporting the availability and usage of condoms, mainstreaming gender into HIV response, and outreach to adolescent and young people including those in the most vulnerable communities.

“I’m so grateful for the chances I've had to stand up as a HIV activist. I want to put an end to HIV stigma. I want people who are HIV positive to know that HIV does not mean the end of your life! I want young people especially to know how to protect themselves from it.”