Nontokozo Zakwe, a 24-year-old woman from KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, grew up in one of the country’s poorest villages. When her mother became ill and was diagnosed with HIV, both Nontokozo and her mother knew very little about the virus or the life-saving benefits of antiretroviral treatment.
“When I first found out my mother was HIV-positive, I was scared, as at the time, many people were still dying,” Nontokozo said.
To help her mother, Nontokozo began educating herself about the disease and started volunteering at a PEPFAR-supported community health organization for young people.
“I got so passionate about health promotion,” Nontokozo said. “I thought I should start talking about it myself, especially to other young people who had not yet been infected. I think that if girls are empowered, mentored, and encouraged to stay in school – and at the same time to stay HIV-free – they can be unshaken.”
Nontokozo is now an ambassador for the PEPFAR-led DREAMS partnership, which is helping girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women across 10 high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
As she says, “DREAMS is about just that – encouraging girls to dream.