“I thought first of killing myself. I kept asking God, ‘Why me?’ I tried to think of my kids, but all I saw was my death ahead of me,” Netsai Chikohomero explains emotionally as she described the day she found out she was HIV positive. That was seven years ago.
She lights up when I ask about her Kufusa Mari Savings Group, which is composed exclusively of HIV-positive women; “We’re just like a family when we’re here. We are all in the same boat, so we can give each other physical, emotional, and spiritual support. We share ideas and help one another.” For Netsai’s savings group, Kufusa Mari has already begun to turn their lives around after only eight months of internal savings and lending. “Some of us used to beg, but now none of us beg. If you use the money properly, you can raise money to buy things for your own. The project is especially important for those of us who are single mothers. Some of us used to be prostitutes, but now we don’t have to do that anymore.”
Still, the current economic climate continues to create struggles for Netsai and her family; “The hardest part is telling my kids that I don’t have money for them. My youngest daughter is only five, but she is trying to understand. I’m trying to raise money for her education, so when she asks for a sweet, I have to ask her, ‘Do you want a sweet or do you want to go to school?’ She thinks about it and decides that school is better. She is starting to understand the reality of the world.”
Though she has huge financial needs, Kufusa Mari has already helped Netsai to earn her own money to pay for food and her medical costs. She is hopeful that it will continue to help her as her group’s combined income grows each month. So far, she says the most helpful part of Kufusa Mari was the initial training in savings and lending methodology; “I learned how to budget, how to buy first what is most important. I have already taught my friends and relatives about how to save and lend money. Most importantly, we learned that we don’t have to beg. We learned how to work hard, use our heads, and fend for ourselves.”
When I ask how she can have hope in such difficult circumstances, she smiles broadly; “I want to see my kids grow up. I have this vision,” she gestures excitedly, “I want to leave my children in their own homes, able to take care of themselves. I want to see my grandchildren.”
I ask her how she feels about her disease now and she pauses for a moment to think. “Now, I feel that I am just like anyone else. When I die, I will die like any other human.”