e-alliance ::

Personal stories of children living with HIV

Stephanie’s story (Australia)

“I’m not like other schoolgirls”, says Stephanie, an Australian teenager living with HIV. “Well, I am… but I also have to deal with secrecy, discrimination, uneducated attitudes at school, what to tell my negative friends, and the constant fear of being found out…”

Stephanie was born with HIV when Australia was in the grip of terror about the condition. Although a first-rate medical system has kept her healthy and strong, she has suffered at the hands of an otherwise caring community.

“For any teenager, high school is hard, but the cloud of secrecy looms over my head every day”, she says. “A fairly normal activity for an Aussie teenager—sleeping over at a friends’ house—demands more consideration than simply packing pyjamas and a toothbrush. It becomes a major issue, with having to hide medications from friends and their family.”

At school, Stephanie has experienced the full extent of people’s fear and ignorance about HIV—from cruel jokes to active discrimination. At her previous high school she disclosed her HIV status to the Vice Principal and was told that unless she informed the whole school, she would have to leave. So she left—but not before the staff was informed of her HIV status.

“There are many heart-breaking stories of little kids being humiliated because of a disease they inherited. But the HIV teenagers of Australia are not going down without a fight”, she says. “The very fact that people like me are still here shows that people with HIV are some of the strongest people in the world… ”

There is only one brief period in the year when Stephanie does not have to fear discrimination: that is when she goes to Camp Goodtime, the annual national camp for HIV-positive children and their families. “There is nothing like the bond between positive teenagers. When we get together there is no stopping the laughter, tears, support, and stories of past camps and members who have died”, she says.

The camp means more to positive teenagers than their medicine. “Camp Goodtime means acceptance, love… and the power of being able to speak freely, without fear”, she says. Stephanie feels that she owes her survival to the camp, and to the support and strength she has received from her mother and HIV-positive friends. An inspired mentor who introduced her to a support group for HIV-positive women also helped her define her role as an advocate for teenagers living with HIV. “She opened my eyes to making the change for yourself instead of waiting for someone else to.”

When she was 15 years old Stephanie addressed a group of HIV-positive women at the International Women’s Summit. She challenged them with the words “My name is Stephanie. I have lived through the war of HIV and I have something to say to the world. Do you?"

from the 2008 UNAIDS Global Report - Link (EN)

More stories

  • "One pill when the sun rises and one when it sets" MSF - Link (EN)
  • Personal stories of young people living with HIV - Link (EN)
  • Prescription for life – Campaign to push for adequate medicines for HIV+ children - Link (EN)
  • A school for all children - Link (EN)
  • Abana – Rwandese children living with HIV/AIDS share their stories - Link (EN)
  • Barriers to education compound challenges for children impacted by HIV and AIDS - Link (EN)
  • "Lesotho AIDS Dairy: Mahlape, an orphan in St. Rodrigue" - Link (EN)
Prescription for Life Resource Guide
Keep the Promise Resource