The power of awareness: Ntuthu’s journey with HIV and a dream

Samantha Thornton details one woman’s personal struggle that effectively saved a community. This piece was originally posted at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and is part of a larger project, “South Africa’s Healthcare Crisis in the Eastern Cape“.

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Grahamstown, home to Rhodes University, is a city rich in academic resources. However, when it comes to HIV awareness and public health, those resources aren’t always at the disposal of residents of the township on the outskirts of the city.

Ntuthu Mxalisa never saw herself working at an HIV center, but had dreams of becoming an investigative journalist. She was working her way into this career as a volunteer at a local radio station where she produced a talk show about HIV awareness in the Eastern Cape. While at the station she fell in love with a co-worker who infected her with HIV.

The pain of knowing she had HIV became too much for Ntuthu to bear. She quit her work at the radio station and attempted to commit suicide. For a year she lived with the secret of HIV before sharing the truth about her condition and her attempt to kill herself. At the Raphael Centre for HIV support and education in Grahamstown she found new direction and embraced the reality that her HIV status was not the seal of her fate.

Ntuthu joined the Raphael Centre as a volunteer; she is now employed to organize support group programs designed to help other HIV status residents live fuller, healthier lives. She inspires the clients and shares her experiences as a woman with dreams living with HIV. She is a mother and an educated woman with strong opinions. She is a survivor, public speaker and activist.

Ntuthu doesn’t see the virus as a curse; rather, it represents the turning point of her life. Her story outlines the challenges women with HIV face in the township of Grahamstown and the successes and failures of public health care in the Eastern Cape.

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Samantha Thornton, a multimedia journalist, worked as assistant photo editor, producer and freelance photographer in New York City for three years. In 2011, she returned to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in multimedia journalism at the University of Miami. She focuses the majority of her work on topics of environmental and social concern.