Changing perceptions

Evelina Tshabalala (then 41 years, resident of Imizamo Yethu Township Hout Bay) rocked her physician's perceptions during her first visit to the Positive Lives HIV Wellness Centre. Unlike many of her peers she was not dying of her HIV disease, she was about to summit mountains. In fact, the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on every continent.

She is one of the bravest women in Africa. Born and bread in rural Kwazulu-Natal she became a mother at the age of 15. She strived to better life for her and her son called Doctor and moved to Cape Town to take up domestic work. She soon developed a zest for road running and excelled. Finding sponsors and means to get to events proved to be a constant struggle, but nevertheless Evie was soon running marathons, within three years she was cruising ultra-marathons, won bronze at the S.A. Championships and came 25th in the London Marathon.

Tragedy struck in 2003. Apart from her father being assaulted in her presence and his subsequent death, Evie had too confront even worse hardship. Her face fades when she talks about the day her second son Emmanuel drowned during an epilepsy attack. Her fading health was another concern. She decided to go for an AIDS test, concerned how her health was affecting her running. "I said whatever the result, I will deal with it, I'll be proud if it's good, if it's bad - I'll be strong."

And she has been. From day one Evelina has shared her HIV status with her immediate family, friends and even more so her community. This was a exceptional deed of bravery in a continent where HIV sufferers are still often alienated and abandoned. Now on anti-retroviral (ARV`s), her CD4 count (immune count) is up, her HIV viral load is down and her focus stronger than ever.

She has already conquered two of the Seven Summits of the world through a venture called Isicongo (roughly translated it means summit in Zulu). This project will culminate with the planned summating of Mount Everest in 2009. Eventually Evie will be on top of the world!

Celebrity status was a natural consequence and reward for this brave lady of Africa. She has become a hero in her local community. Her most loyal fans became the children of her community. She has never forgotten her roots and the sight of Evelina running on Hout Bay beach with the children of Imizamo Yethu has become a frequent occurrence during weekends. She has been the feature of numerous newspaper and magazine articles. This Positive Hero became one only a few Africans to feature on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Radio interviews, local and international followed. At least 2 television documentaries featured a fearless Evelina living a positive live with HIV.

To Evelina life is simple and the limelight is irrelevant. She focuses on the immediate challenge, the reward usually follows. She still remembers her first test of strength in mountaineering. She is a woman from Africa and had to summit the highest summit in Africa first. Could she really attempt this being HIV positive and on ARV`s? She remembers reaching the peak. "Everything was frozen. I called out the names of my mom, my dad, Emmanuel to be with me - I did it so everyone in South Africa would be proud of me."

And no one was prouder than Evie when she got to meet Nelson Mandela as a result. "That was so fantastic!"

In her small world Evelina brought about paradigm shifts in the manner HIV was previously perceived in her world and the bigger South Africa. She took away the fear of HIV. She took away the fear of HIV testing. Why fear a positive result if HIV can be managed like Evelina`s disease? She is summating mountains whilst on ARV`s. She took away the fear of HIV treatment.

She took away the fear stigmatization. Every child in Imizamo Yethu wants to be an Evelina.

Evelina has become a Positive Hero.

Positive Heroes Campaign
Freedom and Fear
Freedom has come at a high price to the Rainbow Nation
Changing Perceptions
The story of Evelina Tshabalala
Goal of Positive Heroes
From Fear to Hope
Providing Positive Heroes and Role Models