Steve is joining our Rural Medical and HIV/AIDs Awareness Project in Zululand, South Africa this coming year and is currently a writer for BeyondPositive.org - check out more of his stuff!
I’m very lucky, but sometimes, like all of us, I need a little reminder.
I have always been a caring sort, ever since I was young I have known I wanted to help people. In a similar way to more overtly religious types getting a ‘calling’, – I have always known that I am here to help.
I have, in the past, tried to look for a career in which I could make a difference, to be there for people when they need me or to support people in ways they will always remember, even if they don’t remember me.
When I was much younger I wanted to be a midwife, but aside from the fact that, as a gay guy, I didn’t enjoy looking at ladies for fun, much less a salary, being a guy meant it was more difficult and after I became HIV Positive it had to be shelved owing to the restrictions at that time on the medical roles people with HIV could, at that time, perform.
I fell back onto my back up idea, teaching, I started working in the classroom as a teaching assistant to get a feel for the job, it was great fun, I started out working in an infant school before moving to Hereford with my ex and getting a slightly better job working in a specialist unit for students with Autism. While in that job I started HIV treatment which knocked me on my ass both physically and mentally, I became dangerously depressed and it was only recently while undergoing some counselling that I worked out why, – the students I was working with were great, and I enjoyed teaching them the skills and lessons they needed to get by, but I found it harder and harder because I knew that no matter what I did, or how much we taught them, they were never going to get better.
It’s a wonderful thing about life that it teaches you the lessons you need when you need them, no matter how uncomfortable it might be and in spite of the fact that you may not realise the lesson learned until much later. I was projecting my unhappiness at my health, my starting treatment and being unwell onto my working life. It wasn’t the kids I was worrying about getting better, it was me.
I was seconded into an office job at the school where I found a love of admin, I quickly became known at home as the arch-administrator and a few years later when I fractured my back and needed a job I could do sitting down, it seemed a natural enough transition and so I settled into it quite happily, progressing from that role into other admin posts.
I now work for a local authority but it gives me the time to write and to support causes I care about in other ways. I also managed a stint as a trustee for a local Counselling service.
Living in the UK I guess I’ve alway been lucky enough to know that my healthcare provision is going to be great, whenever I have been ill I have been very well looked after by the NHS and from time to time I find myself complacent about it.
I knew that, when I had a bout of pneumonia last year, I would be looked after, I know that, if ever I have a problem with my back, I can go to the doctors, I know that I can get my bloods tested every few months at the Sexual Health clinic and be looked after with great care.
To remind myself how lucky I am, I decided a few years back that I wanted to go and work with people with HIV in Africa, circumstances however meant that my plans were temporarily put on hold for one reason, then another, then another until towards the end of last year I realised that there would always be something, a reason for me not to go.
If it was something I was genuinely keen on, I needed to pull my proverbial finger out and get a move on. The timing for this pep talk from my inner monologue was perfect, August of 2016 was to be the 10 year anniversary of my HIV diagnosis, what better way to mark the decade that to go and celebrate it by looking after people who, by sheer accident of birth, didn’t have access to the brilliant healthcare provision of the UK.
Having found a charity who specialised in organising those sort of trips, I began looking at the projects they supported. I will admit, TJ had to physically remove me from the computer before I booked to spend a year looking after baby lions, it was he reminded me, not the point. Lions have no need of healthcare, unless they plan on eating a particularly well fed doctor.
It took a few days before I found the project of choice, and about two months to find the confidence in myself to make the booking, but now it’s done.
In the middle of August I’m going to Zululand on the Eastern coast of South Africa to work on a rural healthcare and HIV and AIDS awareness project.
I will be carrying out home based care and nutrition programmes, assisting with support groups, carrying out building and refurbishment work, running HIV education classes for adults and helping out in the local clinic.
Having spoken at length with the people responsible for running the projects, it seems that actually having someone living with HIV working on the project will be a great benefit for them, to use me to show that people can go on, live and have a life even with HIV.
So, come August, I will be nearly six thousand miles from home just hoping to make a small difference and to remember how lucky I am.