Discussing Sexual Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS with children has for many years seemed to be a taboo in Zimbabwe and Africa in general. In cases where parents living with HIV give birth to HIV-positive children, disclosing their status to them becomes difficult. This has, in many cases, resulted in interruptions of treatment as children fail to accept their HIV status and exposes children to risky behaviours that make them vulnerable.

Dorothy (not real name) and other parents/caregivers participating in the SPACE for OVC Families Matter Program (FMP) in Chiredzi and Masvingo districts tell different stories about their relationships with their children.

Supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/USAID, FMP is a parent-focused intervention designed to promote positive parenting and effective parent-child communication about sexuality and sexual risk reduction, including risk for child sexual abuse and gender-based violence, for parents or caregivers of 9–12-year-olds. The programme recognizes that many parents and guardians like Dorothy may need support to effectively convey values and expectations about sexual behaviour and communicate important HIV, STD, and GBV prevention messages to their children.

Therefore, the goal of FMP is to reduce sexual risk behaviour among adolescents by engaging parents in the delivery of primary prevention messages to their children, and increasing awareness and protective strategies against child sexual abuse and harmful gender norms that may lead to violence.

Four parents shared their stories of how FMP has changed their families. Read about their journey so far since the inception of FMP in Chiredzi and Masvingo.

Dorothy’s Story

Dorothy, from Chiredzi, says that after her enrolment into FMP, her relationship with her 4 children has changed for the better.

“After giving birth to my last-born child and discovering she had been infected, I kept worrying about how I would break the news to her because the other three are negative. I decided to keep it to myself, and she would ask why she was the only one taking medicine and what the medicine was for. I continued lying to her until last year when I came across the FMP program. The teachings in this program opened my eyes and I realised I was not doing justice to my daughter,” she said.

“At the beginning of this year, my husband and I sat down with my daughter, who is now seven years old, to explain her HIV status to her as we had been taught during FMP sessions. Today, I am relieved that she understood and accepted her status. She even reminds me when it’s time for her to take the medication. The process has not been easy, but I realised that after she knew the real reason behind her taking medicine, she is no longer reluctant to take it which gives me a guarantee that my child will live a healthy life.”

Dorothy says she has even opened up to her 11-year-old child whom she has entrusted to ensure that her daughter takes her medication on time in case Dorothy is away.

Melody’s (not real name) Story

“Being a sex worker, I am always worried about getting money and sometimes neglecting my son and his needs in the process. When CeSHHAR referred me to SPACE for OVC program I was not sure if the program would be of any help to me or my son. I was enrolled on the Families Matter Program which has since helped mentor me to be a good mother. In as much as I continue with my sex work, I try by all means to ensure that I attend to my son’s needs and talk to him about issues of sexuality, HIV and gender-based violence,” said Melody, a sex worker from Masvingo.

“I am grateful that my son was enrolled under the SPACE for OVC education assistance program. Now I am guaranteed that his school fees will be paid, and he will have a life that is better than mine. I am hopeful that with such help from organizations like Family AIDS Caring Trust, I will be able to participate in other income-generating activities like Savings groups and soon leave the trade of sex work.”

Families Matter Program manual for parents/caregivers.

 Bernadette’s Story (Not Real Name)

“I was referred to SPACE for OVC by an organisation called JF Kapnek because I have two grandchildren living with HIV. It is not an easy task to bring up children who are infected and I did not know that as a guardian I had to communicate well with my grandchildren even about issues to do with HIV, sexuality, and sexual reproductive health. After attending FMP sessions, I understand the importance of good communication with my children and grandchildren. Constantly communicating with my grandchildren has made it easy for me to ensure that they take their medication on time and avoid risky behaviours,” said Bernadette from Masvingo.

“From our upbringing, we were never taught of the importance of involving our children in family budgets. We always thought it was not important for children to know the family’s financial status but now I understand that including them in budgeting helps them understand especially in cases where they want certain things and cannot get them because of financial constraints in the family. They also give in their input which helps us prioritise their needs as children.”

 Chimazo’s Story (Not Real Name)

“I used to be rough to my grandchildren and would beat them for the smallest mistakes they made. I thought corporal punishment was good to ensure my children behave well, but I did not realise I was pushing them away and creating a gap between us. My grandchildren became distant and were not open to sharing anything with me because they were afraid of me. When we had FMP sessions last year, I realised I was using the wrong approach of bringing them up,” said Chimazo from Masvingo.

“I started to gradually change and be accommodative and engage them more even when they make mistakes, I take time to speak to them politely. I am seeing things have changed in my family, there is love and harmony and my grandchildren are not afraid to share their problems and I help them.”

The SPACE for OVC program has reached out to 711 caregivers of children infected and affected with HIV in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces.