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Spreading Resilience

With the 23rd International AIDS Conference set to begin on Monday 6 July—which, this year, is focused on the theme of resilience—m2m President and CEO Frank Beadle de Palomo reflects on the critical role resilience plays in times of crisis.

Almost everyone, in every corner of the globe, is struggling in the face of COVID-19. While we are social distancing from friends, colleagues, and loved ones to slow its spread, the knowledge that we are all simultaneously experiencing some degree of stress and hardship brings us together, and helps to build our resilience and ability to persevere.

I witnessed this same resilience in 1985 in Oakland and San Francisco, California, when I served some of the earliest communities ravaged by HIV. The fear and devastation that swept through these communities, and eventually across the globe, was harnessed into united action that mobilised us to find solutions to turn the tide on that virus and slow its deadly path. It was this resilience that inspired my lifelong career committed to achieving an HIV-free future. And I believe that this same resilience will give us the strength to continue the fight against HIV even as we defeat this new global pandemic we all face today.

Resilience is the theme of AIDS2020—the 23rd International AIDS Conference that is taking place next week, which is the world’s largest conference on HIV and AIDS . In anticipation of this virtual event, we asked some of the brave women we employ as peer mentors, who are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, how they are building their resilience in these uncertain times.

Velna Malobola

Velna exercising at home.

Velna Malobola – Peer Mentor, Soshanguve, South Africa 

Lately, what I do to remain sane and resilient during these abnormal times, is simply pick up the phone and call my clients. I ask them how they are coping during this lockdown, and we talk about what is happening in our country and how it affects us in the community. I also speak to my fellow Mentor Mothers. We are each other’s source of strength. We check up on each other anytime of the day and night. Also, I am quite a sporty person. After work, I do my aerobics at home. This helps me to cool off and take my mind off work and the stress associated with COVID-19.

Teddy Atim – Mentor Mother, Namayingo District, Uganda

Maintaining resilience in this difficult situation hasn’t been easy, especially being on the front lines. Just like when I first tested positive for HIV, it wasn’t easy but I had to accept the new situation life was throwing at me. The experience I have in mentoring my peers is helping me to deal with the stress that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic. I find that the more I educate and keep my clients and members of my community at ease and informed about COVID-19, the more I am able to deal with my own fears. Helping them stay calm and less fearful gives me a purpose to keep going.

Cissy Mirembe


Cissy in her home village of Ntandagwe where she farms groundnuts.

Cissy Mirembe – Programme Assistant and former Mentor Mother, Jinja, Uganda

The COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent national lockdown has affected my family financially because the price of food and other essential items has increased. However, as a resilient woman, I have gotten involved in farming of groundnuts (peanuts) and recently we had our harvest. Farming is an integral part of my community and it helps me to take my mind off things, especially during this outbreak. Spending time with fellow village women in the fields, farming, and working the land helps us to keep strong for our families.

Nobuntu MaAwu – Mentor Mother, Cape Town, South Africa  

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of fear to people in my community. As a frontline health worker, I am afraid of being infected with COVID-19 either at the clinic or at home. However, Mentor Mothers need to be resilient for our clients who rely on us for health education and support. To maintain that resilience, I spend a lot of time with my family, especially my two beautiful children. They give me a purpose to stay strong. Since they are not at school due the national lockdown, we read books and play games together. This helps me because it always keeps me busy.

Faustina Ocansey

Faustina Ocansey at work

Faustina Ocansey – Team Leader, Ashaiman, Ghana 

In this COVID-19 era, I have had a lot of anxiety, fear, and worry at work and at home. I don’t want to get COVID-19 and I don’t want my children to get it. But my clients need me so I also have to go to work. I talk to my clients and their families and we share stories about COVID-19 and how we can all stay healthy. Through these interactions, I have learned a lot which has helped me to become stronger. At home, we go to church, where we sing and play music. Prayer has also helped me become resilient at this time.

For me, these words are not only the inspirational words of women “Putting People First,” but they are words that remind me of the strength that is found in connecting, person to person, peer to peer. As the head of mothers2mothers, an organisation I love so much, my resilience is built on the bedrock of my family—my wife and two daughters. We have been fortunate to be together during this time—working, learning, cooking, and sharing more as a family than would ever have been possible in normal times. Also, the strength of the m2m team—the hard work, perseverance, innovation, and commitment to protect our clients, frontline staff, and all employees during this pandemic, while not taking our laser focus away from ending the AIDS epidemic—that fuels my resilience and will to push harder and to do better.

Keep an eye on our website and social media feeds for news from AIDS2020 and all of m2m’s activities at the virtual conference.

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