Before I Joined Safe Love

Zambia 2013

By Catherine de Lange

July 15, 2013

Also published at Cowbird

When talking about marginalized groups in the HIV epidemic, especially in Africa, we rarely hear about deaf people. Today, I visited a school which is mostly attended by deaf children and young adults in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. There, I attended a meeting of a youth club called Safe Love, which is set up to give a space to young people to talk about the issues surrounding sexual health and in particular the risk of HIV. The group was run by a facilitator who used sign language and who invited the young people there to tell their own personal stories about how they got involved in the group and how it changed their behaviours. The first to speak up was a man in his mid-twenties, called Amos.

Amos came up to the front to speak candidly about his life, and his story was interpreted by the group facilitator, who you can hear speaking in the audio clip.

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Before I joined Safe Love.

Before I joined Safe Love, I was not fully aware of HIV and AIDS. I was born hearing and all of a sudden I became sick. I got this disease called meningitis and then I was admitted in the hospital. After that I came home and right there I just became deaf.

OK. As my life went on and I became a deaf person living lonely at home, there came my elder-born sister who came to touch me and had sex with me. After she had sex with me I became aware about sex and I started to have girlfriends and I entered school here and that was my lifestyle.

And as my lifestyle kept on then I heard about the Safe Love campaign, and hense from this safe love club I am aware and I stopped this behavour [thanks the people running the club].

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This story might sounds idealistic, but after the session, I spoke to Ben Liti, the executive director of Latkins, which is a local group which helps to run this youth club in coordination with an organization called CSH, which is funded by UNAIDS. Latkins mainly runs mobile HIV testing facilities, and when they came to the school to offer HIV tests, they were alarmed to discover how many of them were HIV positive – 48 out of the 127 tested (38%).

Miti explained that they didn’t realise there was this problem amongst the deaf community. “We didn’t know [before], but when we saw the results we knew we needed to do something,” which is why they organized the safe love club. Young deaf people aren't reached by the media and educational campaigns on the risks of HIV. From the questions they asked us, a group of journalists visiting through the International Reporting Project, it became clear they also have a great deal of concerns around access to interpreters who could convey medical information from councillors and doctors. Youth groups like these might be the first chance for them to learn and share their experiences to a group who do not judge, and who (as you can see from the photo) are there to listen.

Catherine de Lange is reporting on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria on a trip to Zambia with the International Reporting Project (IRP).