At just seven years old, Sekgabo Seselamarumo was diagnosed with HIV. That same year, she lost her mother to the illness, which would mark the beginning of her lifelong struggle with the incurable disease. “I had to repeat a grade because I didn’t do so well [in school],” she recalls. “I used to get sick very regularly.” With 91% of the world’s HIV-positive children living in Africa,and over one million people dying every year from HIV/AIDS in Africa alone, Sekgabo’s situation was all-too common.
Sekgabo’s Aunt took her in and loved her like her very own. Through her aunt’s job in her home country of Botswana, Sekgabo received a government scholarship to attend private school, where, despite her frequent bouts of illness, she became heavily involved in various activities and excelled in academics.
Botswana is the largest producer of gem quality diamonds in the world, which has enabled the country to become the longest lasting democracy across Africa with the fastest growing economy. The 50/50 partnership between the Government of Botswana and diamond mining company De Beers is what makes educational scholarships like Sekgabo’s possible.
Botswana’s dedication to its youth is unparalleled. As the leaders of the future, these young minds are not only nurtured through education, but through charities like Sentebale, and industry-funded organizations that support them like the Diamonds Do Good. Diamonds Do Good is a global nonprofit that is supported by companies throughout the diamond pipeline. From mine to finger, their supporters share in its mission to empower young people in countries where the industry does business, a mission echoed by the amazing work Sentebale is doing with the youth of Botswana.
Sentebale was founded in 2006 by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso, the younger brother of King Letsie III of Lesotho. Prompted by the future Duke of Sussex’s gap year trip to Lesotho, South Africa, the organization seeks to support youth living with or whose lives have been impacted by HIV/AIDS.
“I couldn’t believe that so many children had been robbed of their childhoods by extreme poverty and the ravages of HIV and AIDS,” recalled Prince Harry. “Behind those smiles it was clear they desperately needed care, attention and above all, love.”
Sentebale, meaning, “forget-me-not” in Sesotho, the official language of Lesotho, takes a unique approach to making an impact, collaborating with grass roots organizations on a diverse range of programs.
“We cannot lose a sense of urgency, because despite all the progress we have made, HIV remains among the most pressing and urgent of global challenges,” said Prince Harry in a 2016 speech at the International AIDS Conference in Durban. That same year, Sentebale announced its expansion to Botswana.
Today, Sentebale’s Botswana program continues to thrive in part through the support of Diamonds Do Good, and now, at twenty-three years old, Sekgabo lives a happy and healthy life and serves as a Sentebale ‘Let Youth Lead’ advocate.
‘Let Youth Lead’ is an advocacy program which provides young people with a platform to voice the challenges of youth living with HIV and those affected by the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
The program aims to bring HIV-positive youth like Sekgabo together through summits, conferences, round-table discussions, organized activities and more to discuss challenges faced, explore ways to overcome them, and most importantly create a community of support working to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS. “Seeing the stigma that was around [HIV] was a bit scary,” said Sekgabo. “Sentebale has allowed me to express myself as a youth living with HIV. . .If we are put at the center, it means that we get to bring better methods and ways of reaching out to other young people, to get to communicate the different issues surrounding HIV and how best we can bring solutions.
The ‘Let Youth Lead’ Program also organizes educational and community building activities for youth living with HIV in Botswana. Bakang Itumeleng Garebatho, who is also a Sentebale Let Youth Lead Advocate and co-host of “Radio Positive” with Sekgabo stresses how ‘Let Youth Lead’ activities really transform the lives of youth living with HIV.
Diamonds Do Good is proud to support Sentebale in Botswana and helping youth living with HIV live long and fulfilling lives.
VIDEO: Bakang discusses Sentebale’s 2nd Annual Youth HIV Summit held in August of 2019.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Botswanan government immediately responded with new restrictions forcing the closure of schools nation-wide. This also required that after-school activities, clubs, and camps, like Sentebale, were forced to shut down as well.
As the government used resources to prevent the spread of the virus, Sentebale spent the first crucial days reaching out to the youth in their program, particularly those who were at the risk of defaulting on their treatment. Sentebale’s “Let Youth Lead” advocates used social media, like Facebook and Instagram, to reach out to the youth and provide them with funding to purchase data from internet providers.Sentebale also provided access to virtual support and social gatherings to over 1,200 children in their program that receive ARV treatment during the lockdown.
While Sentebale was unable to stay active in person, two of their Let Youth Lead advocates were interviewed on private radio stations to talk about the coronavirus and the danger it presents to youth with HIV. Because of the ability to bring youth together and educate them during the time of physical separation, Sentebale was able to sign onto a three month broadcast with Duma FM to provide entertainment, education, and activities to the youth all over the country.
Because of the lockdown that remains in place in London, the fundraising events that raised necessary funds for Sentebale have been canceled. Diamonds Do Good has helped advocate for the youth with HIV in Botswana by helping to fill their gaps in funding.