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Westerhof: Role models need to declare their positive status
for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA)
is the Founder and Director of Public Personalities Against AIDS
Trust in Zimbabwe. This is her story. from: "Women leadning the
response to HIV/AIDS in their communities". The story emerges from
a month long workshop run by CEDPA in October 2005.
Westerhof, founder and Director of Public Personalities Against
AIDS Trust in Zimbabwe
and graceful, Tendayi Westerhof always wanted to be a model — and
a policewoman and a flight attendant too, because they had vehicles
and beautiful clothes. Her father, a mining company employee in
their central Zimbabwe town of Kwekwe, dismissed the idea of sending
her to school because that was something for boys. But Westerhof
not only achieved her childhood dream of being a model, she has
become an educator herself and with CEDPA’s help she’s honing her
message to combat the gender inequality she has fought all her life.
Westerhof’s mother was unschooled but determined that her second
child would get a good education, so Westerhof went to secretarial
college. And then she became pregnant. "He was an older man
who said he would marry me, and I knew nothing about family planning
or condoms." She had two children. "It was the end of
the world when that relationship ended," she recalled. "I
thought no man would want me because I had children." She fell
back on her good looks and earned a college diploma in modeling.
"I did fashion shows and contests and regained my confidence,"
she said. As a private secretary, she could at least afford to take
care of her children. And when she met and fell in love with the
Dutch athlete who was coach of the Zimbabwe national soccer team,
their marriage was a national media event, celebrated as a biracial
he was a personality, I automatically was one too," Westerhof
said. She stopped working and stayed home except for publicity events.
"We made a beautiful family, but it was short lived,"
she said. He was offered a lucrative coaching job in the United
Arab Emirates and moved there, returning often to visit her and
the children in Zimbabwe. In January 2002, he tested positive for
HIV. He blamed her.
"I went to
be tested myself, in disguise, because everyone knew my face,"
Westerhof related. She was HIV positive but had no idea what it
meant. "I thought I as going to die at any moment." Her
husband accused her of lying to him, "even though he had other
girls," and one day she came home to find the house empty of
furniture, the car, clothes, everything. "I was HIV positive,
abandoned and pregnant —a triple stigma; and I was also exposing
my husband to criticism." To the media, it was an irresistible
story. "People said, ‘Because she was married to a white man,
she wants to get back at him.’ The woman cannot do or say anything.
But one writer made me talk about it in public for the first time."
She began to wonder
at the national silence on HIV/AIDS. "I saw that if prominent
people talk openly and candidly, it could be a great influence on
the public." In 2003, Westerhof founded the Public Personalities
Against AIDS Trust. "Role models need to declare their positive
status, or if relatives have died of AIDS," she said. "They
can do a lot of good." When prominent Zimbabweans began visiting
her privately and calling on the phone, she learned that they also
needed information themselves. "They can’t go to ordinary people’s
meetings to pick these things up," she said.
to CEDPA’s WomenLead workshop to become a better leader and broaden
her range of skills. She was familiar with much that was presented
in the communications sessions—"It’s what we do"—but fundraising
strategies and management principles like delegating authority were
new to her. "It’s critical to involve people living with HIV
at all levels of decision making, and to put the issue of treatment
up front. And to point out how gender imbalance is woven into everything."
now is on raising public awareness and understanding. She has spoken
out about HIV/AIDS in more than 100 forums in the past two years
and of course on radio and television. Income from a modeling agency
she started in 2003 helps support her work, as well as her group
called Models Against AIDS. And she put it all into a novel, Unlucky
in Love, published by her organization. "It’s fi ction to protect
people, but it’s a true story," she said. "It’s caused
a lot of controversy, but that’s good."
that in Zimbabwe, CEDPA’s materials would help her rewrite her group’s
strategic plan. She will use CEDPA’s manual of best practices to
focus her communications work to recruit more prominent people to
speak out and to attract new donors. "We need to say it’s not
just about the money—it’s about saving people’s lives."
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