“I take care of my virus,” declares the vivacious lady. Armed with nothing but a smile on her lips and bucket loads of optimism, HIV positive Regina Galebolae has over the past 17 years been nothing but remarkable in advocating for those living with HIV since she was diagnosed in 2000.
Speaking at the recently held PEPFAR Botswana and INK Centre for Investigative Journalism New Directions in Global Health Media Writing Workshop, Galebolae wore her heart on her sleeve as she took the attendants through her tear jerking journey.
Like most young women Galeboe had ambitions to study and be an independent woman despite her marital status. Due to the archaic patriarchal mentality this did not sit well with her husband but she soldiered on until one morning when her now ex-husband broke it to her that she will never amount to anything since she is going to, “Die from AIDS.”
Galeboe’s breaking point should have been the confirmation that she was indeed HIV positive but instead it was the start of something special, the rebirth of a strong confident woman who walked out of an abusive marriage with nothing but the clothes on her back. That isolation from her children and her family Galeboe said she took a cautious decision that, “regardless of this virus I have to maintain some kind of composure, control it and not allow it to control me.”
She looks back at a rather unfortunate altercation she previously had with the local media where her status was sensationalized and appreciates that it changed a lot of perceptions about herself as someone living with HIV. Galeboe states that, “It made me a much stronger person, I used to be self loathing and was full of insecurities especially when it came to amorous relationships until I realized everyone goes through breakups, I stopped blaming my status and resorted to assessing the situation that led to the separation.”
Talking about her children seemed like ripping open a fresh wound as she paused a bit, looked up to the sky and said, “Monna yole o reile bo ngwanake a re ke lebelete ebile ke ba lathile,” (That man told my children that I am promiscuous and I have deserted them.) She further explains that she chose not to fight for their custody because during a period of ten years the children were subjected to the worst kind of physical and verbal abuse. However as they grew older they realized that their mother too was a victim and they came back to mummy.
Despite all the personal hardships Galeboe claims that she has found solace in the fact that, “I am a positive role model to a lot of people and make a significant difference in every organization I work for.” During her tenure at the Tebelopele Testing and Counseling Centre people were more comfortable with her as they knew her status and felt she would be in a better position to do the counseling as she was living proof that there is indeed life after being tested HIV positive.
Since the beginning of her advocacy days in 2006 she has traversed the lengths and breadths of the globe spreading her positive message. She has gone as far as Germany, Spain and France and much closer to home in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya and Namibia.
There is still a lot to be done regarding the fight against AIDS and despite the many reforms and initiatives by government and other stakeholders there still some gaps that need to be attended to. Personally Galeboe would like to see interventions within couples that one is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative. They need to be informed on the current best practices with being safe in such a relationship through encouragement support and love.
Another aspect that Galeboe holds close to her heart is the education and empowerment of the girl child regarding sexual reproductive health. She is of the notion that these ‘Millennials’ are in dire need of lots of attention that is not adequately provided by the 21st century working mothers. Her dream is to start a Non Governmental Organization or foundation primarily aiming at empowering the girl child and ultimately protect them from being taken advantage of.
Listening to Galeboe speak, its near impossible to focus on her HIV status, she is a mother in possession of a teaching degree, a beauty queen, fashion designer, netball coach and to quantify what she has over the years learnt from the school of life, Galeboe would be armed with a PhD.
Botswana has come a long way from the days of the “AIDS KILLS” billboards to grooming a phenomenal woman who made a decision to take care of her virus.