Long Walk for HIVAids Awareness

As part of his contribution to create public awareness, HIVAIDS activist Imms Kotokeni Sheefeni will walk over 700 kilometres from the north to Windhoek in eight days. He says the long walk is intended to raise awareness on the illness.

The 30-year-old, who was diagnosed with HIV last year, set off from Ongwediva on Sunday and expects to arrive in Windhoek by Monday or Tuesday.

Sheefeni believes people need to constantly receive the HIVAIDS message for them to make informed choices and decisions.

Speaking in a telephonic interview with New Era yesterday at around 11 o’clock in the morning, Sheefeni who had just left Tsumeb said: “If people just hear the (HIVAIDS) message on World AIDS Day or once in a while in the media they are likely to forget.” He added he is targeting young people with his message. “Young people do not show up in their numbers at formal events on HIVAIDS,” he stressed. Truck drivers are part of his target group as well. He explained they are on the road most of the time and are likely to engage in sex with women they find on the roads.

Dressed in red – a colour associated with HIVAIDS awareness – Sheefeni carries a red ribbon. But he does not have much else other than a backpack with his daily essentials such as vitamin tablets, ointment, pain killers and toiletries as well as jackets to arm himself against the winter that has come in earnest. He does not walk at night and spends the night either at a police station, service station or where he is offered accommodation by relatives and friends, he said. He’s received positive support from the Namibian Police and people he has shared the message with. “People are stopping along the way to enquire what I am doing and also to render moral support. Some have offered me food but I cannot accept it as I am travelling lightly,” said Sheefeni. In addition, he said: “Before I leave a town I at least visit a school or office to give out information on HIVAIDS.”

As part of his awareness campaign, he shares his experience on living with the virus, information on prevention, treatment and stigma. While he wants people to make responsible choices to avoid being infected and for those infected to live healthy lifestyles, he also wants to create awareness on the stigma associated with the disease.

He said people living with HIVAIDS are discriminated against and stigmatised quite frequently. Often times, he said, this stigma is self-imposed in that people are afraid to disclose their HIV positive status even to their families for fear of being maltreated. “Many people discriminate against those living with HIV because they think HIV is only transmitted through … sleeping around (being promicuous) and that is why they contracted the virus but that is not always the case,” he explained. “The majority of those living with HIV are afraid to disclose their status. Since I went public more than 80 people disclosed their status to me but they told me they never told anyone else about it because they are afraid of being discriminated against,” said the activist. “There was a misunderstanding at Oshivelo and people wanted clarity on what I was doing so I explained to them,” he shared. Next week a group consisting of family, friends and members of Sheefeni’s support group will receive him at the Okahandja-Windhoek roadblock and accompany him to Windhoek, he said. By Alvine Kapitako

Source : New Era