Saturday, September 09, 2006

Botswana: Miss Stigma Free 2006

This article from Mmegi in Botswana about the Miss Stigma Free 2006 pageant gladden my heart. I know beauty pageants are frowned upon these days in the liberalised northern hemisphere but they're big business all over sub-saharan Africa.

"I am very happy to have won this crown. I feel that I have achieved what I wanted. This will give me a chance to pursue my mission of sensitising the public about HIV/AIDS," said the jubilant Regina Lesole after she was crowned Miss Stigma Free 2006.

Lesole, former teacher and counsellor at Mahalapye Tebelopele Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre scooped the crown during a colourful event held at Orapa and Letlhakane mines Sports hall. The annual pageant is designed to encourage people to eradicate HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination and to accept People Living with HIV and AIDS in the work place.
The new HIV/AIDS queen displayed breathtaking cat walking skills in front of a full hall that was beautifully decorated, and to the amazement of visitors who could not believe it was a sports hall. Seemingly enjoying every moment of the competition, Lesole eloquently explained her experience of living positively with the virus, and she was the only contestant who answered questions in English. The pageant had attracted different contestants living with the virus from all over the country.

Lesole who hails from Mahalapye told Showbiz that she was diagnosed with the deadly virus in 2000. She said that she had observed that some professionals link the disease with the poor and illiterates hence her decision to go public about her status. "Highly educated people do not want to accept that the pandemic can infect them also. Being a former teacher, I wanted to show that HIV is not for the poor only," she said.

She lamented that support groups are comprised of people with little management knowledge and they tend to fail. She suggested that highly qualified people should join the support groups saying that would lead to a step ahead in the battle against the scourge, which is overwhelming the country.

The theme of the pageant was, "Eradicate stigma and increase production." The 39-year-old Lesole pointed out in an interview that, though it is not for the first time, she is going to sensitise people in the workplace about the stigma related with HIV/AIDS. She feels that her encouragement as Miss Stigma Free would have an impact on people's minds.

The HIV activist advised that HIV positive people should not feel sidelined. They should take advantage of free anti-retrovirals provided by government and other such kind of assistance. She strongly advised infected people to take Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) as prescribed.
Failure to follow instructions is like sentencing yourself to death, she warned. The healthy mother of three was proud to announce that she is on ARVs and she does not feel any social pressure from anybody. She told a full hall that her family, especially her children, encourage or always remind her to take ARVs when it is time. She said people should test for HIV and know their status early in life. She emphasised this would help them in making decisions for the future.


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