HIVSA’s Gogo/Mkhulu Champions Project is based on the premise that senior citizens are the custodians of wisdom and culture in the community, and are often sought out to provide guidance and advice by community members.
HIVSA previously worked with Senior Citizens' Clubs in collaboration with the Department of Social Development in City of Johannesburg, to provide basic HIV information to senior citizens within the greater Soweto and Orange Farm areas. Out of the group of over 1,500 senior citizens provided with basic HIV information in 2013, 30 Champions were selected to actively share basic HIV information with their peers, families and communities.Mkhulu Robert is one of those Champions.
Mkhulu (meaning grandfather) Robert Mthepu is a member of Alpha World Ministries in Protea South Soweto. One Sunday afternoon, Mkhulu Robert Mthepu shared HIV information with members of the burial society he attends every month. After the session,one of mkhulu Robert’s friends from the burial society approached him for advice regarding a sick child at home.
Mkhulu Robert went to see the sick boy (Sipho) aged 22 years, who was not keen to discuss what was wrong with him. Mkhulu Robert continued to visit the family from time to time, counselling and encouraging the boy to go visit the nearest clinic to access HIV testing. Mkhulu said that he remembered what he was taught by HIVSA regarding the importance of getting tested for HIV, which made Mkhulu Robert encourage Sipho to go to the clinic. Sipho eventually requested Mkhulu Robert to accompany him to the clinic to do the HIV test as he was afraid to go alone.
They went to Chiawelo clinic for consultation and Sipho was brave enough to request HIV testing. Whilst waiting to be tested he asked Mkhulu Robert a lot of questions relating to HIV and AIDS, which Mkhulu was able to respond to based on the information gained during HIVSA's health talks. Sipho’s results came back HIV-positive and the news devastated him. Mkhulu Robert offered support and continued to explain to him that it is possible to live a long healthy life with HIV and emphasised the importance of using protection to avoid re-infection and protect others. Sipho asked Mkhulu Robert to be present when he disclosed his status to his father, who is Robert's, friend, since he felt that it was not going to be easy to face the family. Mkhulu Robert managed to explain to Sipho’s family what it means to be living with HIV and to share some information about the services that the family can access.
Sipho attended adherence classes after receiving his CD4 count results and was enrolled on ARV treatment. Sipho is now doing well, has gained weight and continues to talk to Mkhulu Robert whenever he needs to. Mkhulu Roberts believes that being part of the Senior Citizens' Clubs gave him exposure to information which has helped him to help his community.