“Life after the SKILLZ program has been different for me. It is not the way it was since I found out about my status. I am now happier and enjoying life.”

For pregnant women living with HIV, mother-to-child HIV transmission through pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding ranges from 15% to 45% without intervention, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Transmission is more likely in mothers who, at the time of pregnancy or birth of their child, have high viral loads, advanced disease, or have increased exposure to maternal blood.

Faith is a 14-year-old girl from Chongwe district in Lusaka Province, Zambia. Shortly after Faith turned 12, her mother revealed to Faith that she had HIV since birth. The news was confusing to Faith, as she did not fully understand what it meant or why her mother would reveal this information to her. Faith was even more surprised to find out that among her siblings, she was the only one who was positive.

“My mother told me that about my status, and accepting that took a very long time for me,” Faith said.

The months that followed the revelation of her HIV-positive status were very difficult for Faith. She began to isolate herself, and her eating patterns changed as her depression led her to often skip meals. “I stopped going to school alone. My Mum would escort me to school and come at lunchtime to make sure I had eaten,” Faith recalled. “Most of the time I would remain sitting alone for long periods of time, thinking and crying.” 

Despite knowing her HIV-positive status, Faith was in denial and began to default on her medication. Faith’s mother would plead with her to continue taking her meds.

“My mother told me that taking this medicine would save my life, and that it depends on me,” Faith said. “If I stop taking this medicine, I would put my siblings and others at risk. She said I would die if I stopped taking the medication. This made me sad.”

Faith received a call one morning from the health center she regularly visited for her medication refill. On the call, she was invited to attend a Grassroot Soccer program called SKILLZ Plus. Curious about what went on at the program, Faith decided to go. After one session, she found the program appealing and was invested even more. “I spent my first session sitting quietly, trying to understand what this program was all about,” Faith remembered. “I was amazed by how they talked about HIV openly. This was strange to me as I had never seen a program like this. But I liked it.”

Faith (right) with SKILLZ Coach Simon.

As Faith continued to attend the SKILLZ Plus sessions, she enjoyed them even more and found the information that she received to be new and valuable. “I was excited to learn about various things that have changed my life,” she said. “My favorite topic was the rainbow diet. I told my parents to buy more vegetables and fruits for me.” [Rainbow diet is a session in the program that shares information on healthy eating and its importance to overall health and the effectiveness of medication.]

Faith is happy with the relationship she formed with her SKILLZ Coach, Simon, whom she says has helped her regain her confidence and has constantly encouraged and uplifted her from the first day she attended the program.

“I have been greatly helped by Grassroot Soccer, and I hope that many parents out there can encourage their children to join this program,” Faith said “This program helps you learn more about yourself. Going forward with my life, I know how to face problems because of this program. Even when I am done, this program has let me know that I am not alone.”

Currently, Faith is preparing for her ninth-grade resit examinations. In her free time, she enjoys singing and spending time with family and friends, as well as putting effort and time into practicing her poses and catwalks, as she hopes to one day realize her dream of becoming a top model.  

Dauti Kalunga is the Communications Intern with Grassroot Soccer Zambia.