In 1993, Mavis Moyo learned she was HIV-positive. It seemed like a death sentence. But although she lost her husband and her 10-year-old son to the disease, and experienced many HIV-related health challenges of her own, Moyo was a fighter. Her faith was strong and her determination undaunted—she wanted her life to make a difference. And it has. Moyo has been a powerful example of living positively—not just surviving, but thriving.
Fighting the Stigma
Moyo is one of millions of people in Zimbabwe who are HIV-positive. This impoverished country in southern Africa has experienced one of the world’s most severe HIV-AIDS crises. According to the National Blood Service, HIV-AIDS among donors grew from about three percent in the 1980s to almost 40 percent in 2001. In 2003, an estimated 1.8 million Zimbabweans—more than half of whom were women—were living with HIV.
Not long after she learned of her diagnosis, Moyo started antiretroviral therapy treatment and attended a national congress of the Zimbabwe National Networks for People Living Positively with HIV (ZNNP+). This congress gave Moyo the courage to be open about her status—a rare thing at the time because of the stigma surrounding the disease. By speaking out fearlessly, she helped others living in fear.
Today, Moyo is a force to be reckoned with in her community, an advocate for the vulnerable—people living with HIVAIDS, children and young mothers.
Practical and Emotional Support
In the rural village of Tshelanyemba, where Moyo lives, the Salvation Army hospital provides health services for approximately 40,000 people. Most medical services are geared toward HIV-related conditions and the hospital offers the only maternity ward in the area. During economically challenging times, the hospital is unable to pay many of the staff, but they stay committed to the health and welfare of the local people.
For several years, Moyo volunteered as a counsellor in the hospital, providing practical and emotional support for patients suffering from HIV-related illnesses. Later, she was hired by the primary care counsellors, who would often refer their cases to her when they were unable to manage their workload.
Moyo is now part of the hospital’s HIV-AIDS team. The range of tasks varies, from teaching volunteers how to care for wounds to co-ordinating training for families when a patient is released from the hospital.
In the early days of the HIV-AIDS crisis, there was little support for people who were HIV-positive and their families. They needed a place to talk openly about their challenges and learn how to deal with the effects of the disease. Moyo was among the first in her area to monitor newly formed support groups.
Despite facing discrimination, Moyo participates as a member of the District AIDS Action Committee (DAAC), representing people living positively with HIVAIDS. She is also the district chairperson for People Living Positively (another community group) for the Matobo District under ZNNP+.
Moyo plays a significant role in the Silokwethemba project, a community-based program administered by two Salvationists, Max Vincent and Anne Letendre, from Vancouver. Since 2004, the project has paid school fees for more than 5,500 children, distributed 3,000 pairs of shoes and helped sponsor many soccer activities.
“Mavis is the eyes and ears on the ground for our project because she reads the culture so well,” says Vincent. Moyo meets regularly with a group of community volunteers to get updates on the schools and other programs. She travels with the team to visit schools, assisting in conversations with headmasters (including translation as needed), and solving any problems or conflicts that arise.
Each year, she debriefs with Letendre and Vincent to evaluate the project’s effectiveness and consider other ways they can assist the local children. This resulted in the shoe project as well as a new initiative to produce re-usable feminine products for young girls, and, for next year, the provision of notebooks and pencils for students.
Children hold a big place in Moyo’s heart. In the summer of 2015, I travelled to Tshelanyemba as part of the Silokwethemba team. During my visit, I witnessed Moyo caring for a young girl who was suffering from malnutrition. Moyo visited her in the hospital every day to feed her, pray with her and talk to her nurses. I was moved to tears when I saw this child’s fight for her life. We accompanied Moyo to the girl’s home to make sure she wasn’t being mistreated. It was difficult to know how well the child was cared for as a large number of people lived together in the small hut, but Moyo assured us she would continue to maintain contact with the family. The meagre dwelling and complicated family life represented many others in similar situations. Moyo knew the future of the hospitalized girl was uncertain.
A Pillar of the Community
Moyo—often known as Ma Moyo—is loved and respected in her community, a source of encouragement and education. She models healthy living by eating properly, consistently taking her medication and being active in community groups. It is her belief that this reduces the stigma and lifts the morale for so many who live with HIV-AIDS. She is quick to speak of her faith and its integral place in her life, including how she has coped with grief, sickness, prejudice and poverty.
Like many others, Moyo has opened her home to orphans and family members who need financial support. She has supported her own children, her grandchildren, several nephews (who lost their dad) and her mother while living on a low income.
Her home has also been a place of refuge for young pregnant moms who come to Tshelanyemba to deliver their babies. I remember well my visit to Moyo’s home one evening when several expectant young moms were socializing and receiving loving support from Ma Moyo. The small and humble dwelling was scarce in furniture, with one light bulb to illuminate the dark. But the atmosphere was warm and happy. Moyo insisted that her guests (the expectant moms and us) would have a place to sit, even if it was an upside down water pail or the arm of a chair. After much enjoyable conversation, Moyo led us in a time of prayer.
In 2015, close to 30,000 people in Zimbabwe died of HIV-AIDS. While infection rates are declining, 1.4 million people are still living with the disease. By fighting the stigma, Moyo is making a difference. Before visiting Tshelanyemba and meeting Ma Moyo, I thought “living positively” meant having a good attitude toward life. Now I know it means so much more.
Lt-Colonel Wanda Vincent is the territorial secretary for women’s ministries in the Kenya West Territory.