There was a full house in Highfield last November when over 300 residents braved the sweltering heat and packed room to watch local documentary, “Chiedza’s Song: Growing up with HIV in Zimbabwe.”
The film was screened by the Zenith Project, a research study focused on developing testing and support interventions for adolescents living with HIV. The project is conducted by the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in collaboration with The Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Harare City Health Department.
Screened at Zimbabwe Hall, “Chiedza’s Song” highlights the real life experiences faced by young people living with HIV. The film opens with a young teenage girl living with HIV – only identified as Chiedza – narrating her journey to self-acceptance and self-respect. Throughout the film, her face is concealed, as she is not sure how society will accept her choice to speak out. The film starts out as a dialogue between Chiedza and the presenter who is also living with HIV and only identifies himself as Tatenda.
Chiedza tells of how she grew up in a typical family which was shattered by domestic violence, leaving her in the care of her stepmother. She grew up a sickly child, frequently staying home from school. According to Chiedza, she is not sure how she contracted the virus. She was raped by a neighbour when she was 6 years old and did not receive medical attention or testing at the time as her mother beat her into silence. Her mother later tested HIV positive and it is suspected she could have passed the virus to Chiedza at birth but this was never confirmed as Chiedza’s father refused to be tested.
In the film, Chiedza speaks of how she was never told by her family that she was HIV positive and would just take her medication without asking question, until she overheard people whispering rather too loudly about her condition.
According to Dr Rashida Ferand who is the principal investigator for the Zenith Project, Chiedza was part of the 50% of infected young people in the seven Harare communities studied who are ignorant of their status. Families hide such information as a way of protecting the family name, or in some cases not wanting to hurt the child’s feelings.
Communities taking part in the study include Mufakose, Dzivarasekwa, Glen Norah, Kuwadzana, Budiriro, Glenview and Highfield.
“Our goal is to find a way to create open dialogue in communities about HIV using audio and visual means,” said Dr Ferand. Chiedza‘s song has so far been screened in Mufakose, Dzivarasekwa, and Highfield, and will be screened in the remaining four communities. Dr Ferand says the response has been overwhelming. “We intend to have community-led discussions, especially involving young people, about their feelings towards mixed-status relationships and the responses have so far been impressive.”
After the film screening, a lively discussion revealed that residents were keen to learn how to protect themselves, while many mothers complained that their husbands barred them from being tested or taking their children for testing.
“I have learnt a lot through this film, especially about how teachers may contribute to discrimination in schools by using HIV positive students as examples during health lessons. I will definitely share the information I have learnt with colleagues,” said Charity Hove, a Highfield resident.
Highfield was among the worst affected areas in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) according to statistics recorded from January to March last year. According to the National Aids Council,the South Western side of the capital leads in the number of STI infections with 1,400 cases recorded during that period.
Image: Over 300 Highfield residents packed Zimbabwe Hall to watch the film
Image credit: Pretty Chavango