Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba
Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba

Book initiates a conversation with children about awkward subjects like HIV/Aids and pregnancy, making them easier to understand

By Amanda Maliba Time of article published Aug 25, 2021

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WHILE many parents feel a lot of conversations about things like sex, HIV/Aids and even pregnancy are discussions for “a later stage”, access to information and our current reality as a country has shown us that it is never too early.

This week, Gauteng MEC for Health Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi revealed that a staggering 23 226 girls fell pregnant between April 2020 and March this year, with a further 934 girls aged between 10 and 14 having given birth.

These shocking stats further prove the need for the protection of children and also the importance of extensive conversations on these sensitive topics.

Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba

Activist Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba has broken into this market by initiating a conversation among children through her latest children’s book, I am Still Zuri. The book aims to be a conversation starter about HIV/Aids, not only for experienced adults but also among children.

South Africa has, to date, recorded close to 2 million children living with

HIV, and yet even with such staggering numbers, Mayaba believes that the conversation around HIV/Aids is still lacking.

The 30-year-old, who has done extensive work educating and inspiring others about HIV after being diagnosed in 2013, said she realised the importance of initiating such conversations when her niece asked her if she was sick one evening as she was taking her ARV pill, also inquiring what the pills were for.

This innocent and direct question left Mayaba shocked as to how to engage her 4-year-old mind to explain the virus to her without scaring her. It was at that moment that the penny dropped, giving birth to the book. Through 7-year-old Zuri, Mayaba has created a character that kids can relate to while learning about HIV.

“It was at that moment that I realised that so many parents could be going through the same thing, whether they are the ones living with HIV or its kids that are taking the medication and they have to explain what the medication is for.

“That is where the inspiration comes from. I want to dismantle what HIV is and what it has come to represent in a language that kids can understand. Because at the end of the day, I know as parents we all fear that our kids are going to find out our statuses but the fear we have will be instilled into our kids. And I didn’t want that, whether for my own children or my niece,” she said.

The book helps break down the complexities around HIV and will form a foundation of knowledge that she believes can be built upon as the child grows. Zuri represents any child in any continent and lessons that come across are that of acceptance of each other’s differences and unity.

“The World Health Organization recommends that we start talking about disclosure of HIV when a child is seven years old, and I say earlier depending on how you do it. Kids nowadays understand so much and even what germs are, and when we use a language that they can understand, like soldiers, we can kickstart this very difficult conversation that can destigmatise living with HIV and create a future society that is open to such conversations,” she said.

Mayaba is also the author of I Am Still Me, which details her own journey of disclosure and accepting her diagnosis. She says I am Still Zuri is not only designed for kids living with HIV but speaks to everyone, including adults.

“Writing the book was challenging. First, I am not a parent and have only been living with my niece for seven months so I’ve had to take some time to really get into a child’s head to find out what a child aged 4, 5 or 6 knows and what they don’t know and to what extent.

“With intense research and reaching out to various stakeholders like nurses to explore the importance of disclosure, reaching out to my niece’s teacher who has 20 years of experience working with children, I pooled all the information to come up with a child-friendly book with the correct fonts, the correct illustrations, and correct language,” she said.

“The book is anchored in HIV, but it can be about any other chronic disease and explaining the concept of whatever illness to their child. It therefore becomes a great addition in this very long road of engaging our children meaningfully,” she said.

Mayaba has thus far done meaningful work and won many accolades like the Nelson Mandela Business Chamber Top 40 under 40 achiever recognition, among others.

Sunday Independent

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