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Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Lesotho Aids diary: Lay counsellor

The BBC is following the lives of seven people from the community of St Rodrigue, in Lesotho, who will share their hopes and fears as they each struggle to live with and work through the country's HIV/Aids crisis.


Joseph Ramokoatsi | Lay counsellor | St Rodrigue

I'm from Setleketsens, a village in the mountains a few hours from here, but I live in St Rodrigue where I'm a lay counsellor in the community clinic.

counsellor
Age: 36
Lives: St Rodrigue
Occupation: Lay counsellor
Wishes
I would love if there was peace in the world.
I wish for good health for the Basotho people.
I wish I could build a big house in my home village. Then I would get married to my girlfriend and become a farmer.
I'd love a van. A black and white 4x4 van, which I would drive all over the mountains.

I'm HIV-positive. I discovered this the second time I had TB.

I was so sick that second time that I could no longer walk. Every morning I had diarrhoea. I had headaches and sores in my mouth and was coughing all the time.

I had to be taken to St Rodrigue across the back of my horse, which carried me over the mountains.

When I was diagnosed I was very afraid because there was so much stigma about HIV. I received counselling and started on ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) on 24 March 2006.

I'll never forget that date because ARVs saved my life.

With training from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), in August 2006 I became a lay counsellor. I was no longer afraid to speak out and say: "I am HIV-positive". I wanted to tell people the truth. I remembered my own fears and wanted to help others with theirs.

The reason people love me is because I give them hope. They see me walking around, laughing and singing and they realise that it is possible to live with HIV and then they stop worrying so much.

I love being a lay counsellor, because now I am like a king in Lesotho. When people in the community see me they start clapping because I helped their families to survive.

When people come to the clinic I counsel them and encourage them to get tested. I tell them HIV is not a death sentence.

I ask them not to panic, because I know some people in Lesotho have killed themselves by drinking petrol when they discovered they had HIV. We help stop this kind of fear with our counselling and our support groups.

'Outcasts'

My support group has a song that says: "Joseph - when you make a group we attack the virus."

In our group some people come who are outcasts in their families. They have been told to sleep outside with a different blanket because the family is afraid of HIV.

We support these people and give them information to take back home. I know I have killed stigma for many who were sick and afraid. People get tested, start on ARVs and then later I see them dancing and working in their gardens.

MSF trained lay counsellors to test for HIV. The doctors and nurses need us because there aren't enough qualified medical people. Even on my days off, people come to St Rodrigue saying: "Where is Joseph, I want to get tested."

When I'm on holidays up in my village, I bring my testing kit with me and counsel people there, especially the men who work in the South African mines who only return to their villages in between jobs.

As lay counsellors, we also do big community talks across the district and visit schools, publicly telling people we are HIV-positive and teaching them about prevention and treatment. We give out pamphlets, sing songs and perform dramas to try to teach everyone about the disease.

Sometimes being a lay counsellor is so hard because people in the support group can get sick and die. Nearly every Saturday I go to funerals. All those funerals make me so sad, but I don't give up because I know that those who take their treatment can stay alive for a long time.



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