Conversations is a project that tells the story of families living with HIV. Combining photographs and first-person reflections, it tells of how HIV came into their lives and how they are dealing with the disease.

The concept of ‘family’ has a wide definition, and includes people who live with and support those living with HIV. Whilst living with HIV includes sadness, families speak
of how they are empowered by dealing with the many challenges that are part of HIV. In the face of HIV, there is compassion and courage, openness, sharing and love.

As part of the project, members of the twelve families also participated in creative, cultural, performatory workshops, and shared their experiences.

Christo and Liesel Greyling live in Ruimsig, a gated community where children ride their bikes on the street. Christo is the first Dutch Reformed minister to have been open about his HIV status. He left the church two months later to form an AIDS ministry. Liesel found out that Christo was HIV positive after dating him for six months. Doctors at the time gave Christo three to six months to live. They have now been married for 16 years, and have two children. Every anniversary together, they say, is a bonus.

I know that I have to face the possibility that I might be a single parent sooner than many of my friends.   I have not thought of the details yet, but I know that I will be able to handle it. I have learnt a lot in the past twenty years. I try not to think about the future every day, otherwise I miss the present” – Liesel

Naboe Abrahams was married at the age of 15. Her husband died soon after, leaving Naboe pregnant and unaware of the cause of his death.

The doctors refused to open his file, she says, and her only clue pointing to AIDS was the fact that they fell silent every time she entered the room.

Naboe gave birth to Samier after her husband had died from AIDS. Talking about Samier, she says: “hey tested him at six months and at nine months.”

We are waiting there in that room and I was thinking: “Oh God please don’t let Samier have the virus”. When the sister said he is negative I was crying with happiness. -Naboe

Selinah Mashinini found out that she was HIV positive in 1995 when she went for antenatal care. At that time Neviparine and AZT were not available, so she prayed for a healthy baby. She is now a volunteer offering home-based care to others living with HIV. “What I’ve experienced,” she says, “is that if someone in your family is HIV positive, you start to care for other families. HIV is not here to kill us. It is here to teach us how to love one another.”

“I know it is a challenge to have a person who is HIV in the family because at times that person has many complications and you must care for that person when they are sick. It’s when you show that person love that they see that they are not alone. You can show care by touching that person and listening to them” – Selinah

The Conversations project is funded by PEPFAR and USAID through Johns Hopkins Health and Education South Africa.

Conversations is linked to a previous project, Living Openly, which was developed as part of the national Beyond Awareness Campaign. Using photographs and stories, Living Openly explored the process of disclosing ones HIV status to others. Both projects feature photographs by leading South African portrait photographer, Gisele Wulfsohn.

The report can be downloaded in three parts, here.