The Mother of Mentor Mothers
Back in 2001, in the early days of caring for pregnant women living with HIV, I met Elaine Maane at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. She was there providing education and support; helping pregnant women understand how to best take care of themselves and their babies. We became close friends; and together conceived of a program that we called Mothers2Mothers2Be. In those early days Elaine led the groups, educated and supported the mothers, distributed food parcels and made it all work. She also became the face of what would become mothers2mothers on a much larger stage. First in Barcelona at the 2002 International AIDS Conference and then at so many other venues around the world, Elaine spoke out for women who were voiceless. We are indebted to Elaine and recognize her as the Mother of all Mentor Mothers…Dr. Mitch Besser, Founder and Medical Director.
Elaine is a single mother of one, an HIV activist and an inspiration to all. Elaine was mothers2mothers’ very first Mentor Mother and even though she left m2m in 2004, she never ceased educating and advocating for those living with HIV. When Elaine began working for m2m, her biggest challenge was finding balance in her life; she had a young child and had just been diagnosed with HIV. There was still so much stigma arround the illness, and the then South African government was in denial about everything HIV.
Elaine currently works for Social Transformation Empowerment Projects (STEPS), a 10 year old organisation focused on producing documentaries around people living with HIV. The organisation uses documentaries and books as a way of informing and educating the population about HIV/AIDS. STEPS encourages creativity in its approach and Elaine loves her ability forgo convention and approach her trainings in more fun and vibrant ways.
The biggest challenge she faces is that so many of the people working in the HIV field whom we rely on to inform others are still unaware of their own status. As she shares, real responsibilities come with a public platform., “I experienced a lot of attention through my work and I admit that separating my personal life from the public is often challenging. The line often gets blurred but I understand that its part and parcel of being a public figure doing the kind of work I do. Due to the these pressures and my own personal beliefs, I try to avoid being seen or referred to as a celebrity, but rather as an activist for ‘a basic human right’. The challenges I face as a woman, as a mother, as a sister, as an employee with my HIV, that’s what it is about.
Having lived and seen tragedies as a result of HIV/AIDS, I know the impact that all the pressure can have (especially when it comes to taking treatment) on a person’s wellbeing and health. For me the need of taking proper care of and always putting my health and wellbeing is above all else.”
Elaine is frank about the challenges that she and others living with HIV face, challenges that include dating, taking treatment and the daily responsibility of “living positively.” “When you are living with HIV there is some kind of pressure to maintain a certain standard at work, like ‘I can I work just like anybody else. We may want to maintain that, but I don’t think other people living with HIV understand its just pushing one’s self and risking health.” When we asked if she has ever moved on from being a Mentor Mother, Elaine says: “you never move on ‘from’ being a Mentor Mother, you move on ‘with’ being a Mentor Mother. But I wish all Mentor Mothers could have those days when they admit to themselves that there is a virus living in their blood and that once in a while it makes them feel tired. The day we all do, we will stop pushing ourselves so hard and then we will truly live positively.”
Above all, Elaine advocates for an attitude that rejects stigma and encourages acceptance. “I talk about living not “infected” with HIV. People say “oh an HIV-positive woman”…I’m not that! I am living with HIV, meaning it is part of me. Before it I lived, and with it I’m living, and I’ll still continue to live, so that’s mostly what I stand for that’s what I believe…living with HIV.”
Read more about STEPS