By Tejaswy Swathi, Beyond Stigma Professional Intern
Self-stigma and the power of exploring your thoughts
Do you remember when you had to first take your class online or when you had to work from home when COVID hit? Do you remember how anxious you were about staying at home for a while but you didn't know how long? Now, imagine the feelings of a young adult living with HIV on medication regarding the uncertainty concerning staying at home, thinking they are at a higher risk of COVID transmission, access to medication, and increased chances of self-stigma due to isolation during the pandemic among other feelings. Every person processes fear, anxiety in situations like this in different ways and all feelings are valid, but have you ever thought about how your thoughts tell you about how you feel about yourself?
Wakakosha: the programme
Do you agree when I say - you are what you think and your thoughts have the power to change your beliefs and perceptions about anything. Have you ever been in a circle of people who share similar experiences but live with different perspectives? Has this ever changed the way you view your experiences differently because of the exposure to those perspectives? Wakakosha is one such peer-led safe space that allows one to think and process their thoughts and feelings in different ways and perspectives. The beauty of this programme is that it utilizes abundant creativity and reinforces your power of thinking through Inquiry-Based Stress Reduction (The Work of Byron Katie), psychology, art, music and meditation, and group activities to reduce self-stigma in young people living with HIV in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The two-year programme which has been developed in partnership with Zvandiri and CeSHHAR Zimbabwe has three stages:
1- Firstly, formative research as the first stage to understand the unique beliefs and experiences of young people living with HIV;
2 - Secondly, A 16-week self-stigma course conducted on the themes of HIV disclosure, body image, relationships, shame and guilt, relationships, sex, judgement of others, future, God;
3 - Thirdly, developing a self-stigma tool box with different components that includes a revised workshop curriculum, an online resource hub, a short three day self-stigma training, and a course to train the trainers for the sustainability of the programme and its learnings.
Highlights of the programme
One of the songs developed at the end of the workshops resonates the participants' feelings and one can’t help but sing or step when they hear the beautiful voices singing together. One of the verses of the song sung as part of the programme is “There is so much stigma, but I will rise above” and this is just the beginning of a journey from self-stigma to self-worth through a process of questioning your thoughts and turning them around.
A verse from the song from the workshop says:
“Our thoughts tell us how we feel, we have a choice” and isn’t this something we all sometimes overlook, that we always have a choice in the way we think.
During the uncertain times, the programme, as well as the research, has taken a turn of being online instead of in person, as it was the safest and best available method then. However, Beyond Stigma has continued its effort to reduce the stigma in young adults with HIV, and we are drifting back to having in-person workshops to contribute to the growing field of HIV self-stigma. This is just a glimpse of how Wakakosha is positively changing the way we process our thoughts and how we live with them. The power of your thoughts and the fact that you have a choice about how you feel can be a takeaway for everyone out there who has ever doubted their self-worth in their lives.