UNODC is cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS
The Story of Zualboi
In Memoriam: On 11 July 2006 Ms. Zualboi, UNODC, Peer Educator passed away in Aizawl. When Zualboi came out into the open, on being positive, she said she felt it gave her a legitimate voice in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Over the past two years, Zualboi had been trying her best to see to it that fewer and fewer people, especially women, fell prey to the virus. The courage she showed and the hard work she put in won her the acceptance of the society.
She spends her free time making artificial flowers. The intricate work involved used to bother her earlier, but she is getting used to it. Thirty-year-old Hmangaihzvali, better known as Zualboi, makes flowers more to keep herself occupied than to earn money. These flowers are an embodiment of the strength and endurance with which she is fighting her losing battle with AIDS. In reality, it is a losing battle. But when one hears that some of the flowers salute departed friends from the Positive Network of Mizoram at their funerals, one is moved to believe that the battle is anything but lost. For the flowers tell of the undying spirit with which these individuals tried to transcend human mortality. And as the flowers send them off on their journey into another world, they also send along the promise of rebirth. A promise that has blossomed from the seeds sown by these people through the hard labour they put in to transform their own lives, as well as those of others. The frailty of the flowers belies the potential they hold for a qualitative change in the future.
The flowers are an embodiment of her strength and endurance against her losing battle with AIDS
Zualboi was taken to a Protection home, where she stayed for one year as a patient
Zualboi was born in the village of Hortoki. When she was a child, her father headed the VDP, a body which functions as a police force in villages that have none. As president, he was in charge of curbing the sale and trafficking of drugs in the village. Everything changed when he was shot at by a drug pedlar and the family had to move to Aizawl to get him treated. This took a heavy toll on them, both financially and otherwise. Zualboi and her younger brother were compelled to drop out of school, and soon the young girl was working to support her parents.
In 1995, Zualboi got married. The following year, she was divorced. The weak foundation on which her life had been teetering now collapsed altogether. Zualboi got sucked into a self-destructive vortex and started experimenting with all sorts of things. Among these were prostitution and various kinds of drugs ("whatever I could find"). This went on till 1997, when she was taken to a protection home. She stayed there as a patient for a year, and as a volunteer thereafter. It was in 1999 that she got to know about her HIV status. 'I found it difficult to accept,' says the soft- spoken Zualboi. And, of course, the fear of censure loomed large.
"Initially, I was afraid of being disgraced. I felt that my friends would stop talking to me. And that my family members - my mother, father, brothers and sisters - would be ashamed of me. And because of all this, I could not bring myself to reveal my status.
"However, with growing exposure to people who were lending staunch support to those in her plight, Zualboi's reluctance gradually gave way. The protection home (where she continued to work) stood by her, and it was when she joined the NGO, SHALOM, that she realized the importance of going public.
"When I joined SHALOM, I thought here are people who aren't even HIV-positive and they're advocating our cause so vociferously, and here I am, an HIV-positive person who's keeping herself under wraps. The way they spoke made me feel guilty about my silence and posed a challenge to me… After a while, I was ready to announce my status and face the consequences."
Now Zualboi works as a peer educator with CHARCA
Zualboi in her office with other volunteers
By now, Zualboi herself is among those who are exhorting HIV-positive people to shed their sense of shame and lead a life of dignity. She is also doing her best to see to it that fewer and fewer people fall prey to the virus. She conducts training sessions on the subject, as a CHARCA peer educator and addresses people in Church as well. Having come out into the open has given Zualboi a legitimate voice in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This, in turn, has given her a sense of empowerment and confidence. The courage she has shown and the hard work she is putting in has won her the acceptance of a society, which had branded her as a fallen woman.
"While some people still look down on me, there are others who admire me for my courage. Unless we fight our problems openly, our work will not get anywhere. If we want comfort, we must go through the trouble - that is the first step. If I make my HIV status public, other people like me will benefit from the freedom that it gives them. My disclosure hasn't created all that many problems for me. In fact, I lead a happier life now."
Zualboi is more and more unwell with each passing day, and though it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to keep up with her outreach work, she refuses to let go. The energy she manages to summon up for her activities leaves you incredulous. And rather than feel sorry that her body is a shadow of what it used to be, you admire her pride in herself, her joie de vivre and the natural grace of her bearing. She loves to dress up and go out when she can, and thinks she looks best in the traditional dress of Mizoram, the puan. Her favourite pastime within her home, where she lives on her own, is to listen to music of various kinds.
It is not only HIV/AIDS victims who have something to learn from Zualboi. Her example is worthy of emulation by so many of us who sit ruing a far less wretched fate, letting it rob us of the motivation to act constructively and making a mockery of the time which people like Zualboi would be desperate to gain.
My disclosure hasn't created all that many problems for me. In fact, I lead a happier life now