Jo-Ann Livey Van Wyk was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 17, she was pregnant at that time. Her family had organized an intervention to break the news to her. It was the worst fate possible, at a time when HIV/AIDS was believed to be an automatic death sentence.
Her mother, siblings maligned her, gave her different spoons and bottle to use, planned her funeral while she was also pregnant. She was kicked out of school, and became a UNICEF spokesperson.
In 2013, Jo-Ann told Namib Times;
“It all started out as being an innocent young child at school, and then I fell pregnant. I was 5 months pregnant at the time when I received a phone call from the doctor saying I needed to come in immediately. I got there and there was a crowd waiting to tell me I have AIDS and was going to die.”
She later told UNICEF:
“The only thing I knew about HIV was that it was a death sentence. I didn’t want to die. I was only a kid and had a lot of dreams. Even my own mother changed when I told her about my status. And the same thing happened over and over again in the family, in the community, in the city. I just couldn’t be with others anymore. I was denied all rights.”
Jo-Ann reached her breaking point when her school’s principal told her to stop coming to school.
“That was my breaking point, because I loved school, even if I were pregnant and HIV-positive. At that moment I was hopeless.”
When her mother started planning her funeral, she left for her grandmother’s place in Witvlei, Namibia. She accepted her. From there, she started learning about HIV and enrolled in a UNICEF programme on antiretroviral drugs that separated her disease from her child.
After Remi’s birth, Jo-Ann returned to school and earned a qualification in project management, then became an advocate for HIV/AIDS and told her story in her book, A Diary from the Land of the Brave.
From there, she rose to distinguished assemblies like the 2007 United Nations General Assembly, before becoming the toast of Witvlei to become their mayor at 26 and pioneered a huge housing project for the poor and desolate.
Her son is 13 years old now, and he’s her strength.
“Remi is 13 years old now. He is my strength and my courage. He made me wake up every morning and keep dreaming, keep believing and have hope.”
“In 2010, the same community that had thrown stones at me, that literally had wanted to kill me, asked me to stand before them and show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Then she became public relations office of a German initiative in 2016 after she got out of office. In 2016, there were 19.4 million people living with HIV (53%) in eastern and southern Africa and 6.1 million (17%) in western and central Africa, according to statistics by HIV.
Wyk is definitely a modern hero, who refused to be defined by a disease.