PHOTO CREDIT: Malijo Baji
Malijo Baji, popularly known as Tebello Sents`o (maiden name), is a Mosotho lady born and groomed in a villiage called Qoaling in Maseru-Lesotho. Malijo has battled quite successfully with the HIV/AIDS pandemic for the past 16 years. She has been and still is a grudge to many who are terrorized by this pandemic in our small mountainous Kingdom-(rated number two HIV infection rate in the world). She is therefore worth mentioning as we celebrate phenomenal African women.
It was in 1999 that Baji discovered she was infected with HIV, she was pregnant with her second child and not yet married, at the time, HIV/AIDS was still very rare, there was a lot of stigma attached to it perhaps because people didn’t know much about it as they do now. Young, pregnant and HIV infected! This was a really rough patch for any African youth. What made matters worse for her was that it was on her second pregnancy (the first she was doing form D/ grade 11) that she discovered her HIV status. She had clearly won the deviant (black sheep) title in her community- this however did not keep her down. She decided to fight. “At that time(1999) all I thought of was death, I would ask myself everyday whether I would live to see the next day, every day seen was a miraculous victory” she says.
Her CD4 count was “94”, her body was spotted like a cheater but only with sores, she oozed blood and discharge in her ears, and she suffered very painful piles in her rear. The last brow to her expectations, was when she got deserted by the person we could supposedly call her first love, the first baby’s father. ARV`s were also very expensive at that time, they went for R3000 per pack, which was very expensive for the young sales agent. Quite luckily, she got sponsored by her employer who pledged to take care of her medical expenses; she also got a lot of support from her family and her new boy friend (now her husband).
2004, Baji saw change, PSI-Lesotho (Population Services International) with its “New Start” program ignited her desire to fight HIV/AIDS and even more; it gave her a job. She had become relatively stronger and had formed her first support group (Leratong Christian youth support group) to create awareness, this group grew rapidly like a tumor, in no time it had mothered many more groups in her village and countrywide. She became very popular in our local radios and television hosting and being guest to some health talk shows. She would be invited to churches and various organizations to educate people on HIV/AIDS. Very quickly she won over the support of prominent medical doctors and counselors. This was a point in the bag for her because it meant more seminars and workshops. She was obviously fighting a winning battle. On numerous counts, she would accommodate HIV/AIDS infected peoples in her home, hosting them until they were better and ready to go back to their respective homes - this she did from her own pocket. She was made senior counselor shortly after joining PSI.
Baji continues her fight against HIV/AIDS even today, her number one desire is an HIV/AIDS free Lesotho, she is a motivational speaker and part of a movement called sisters of Dorcas. She continues to encourage and motivate many people. Her works attracted so many eyes that when she got married in 2004-May, her marriage made the SABC television headlines.
Presently, Baji works as a counselor at JHpiego- Lesotho counseling men who need circumcision services; she is happily married and mothers two children. Amongst her milestones, Baji scooped:
- 2007 EXTRAORDINARY CONTRIBUTOR AWARD (PSI-Lesotho)
- She made committee member of LENEPWA (Lesotho Network of people living with HIV/AIDS)
- She became coordinator of LESS AIDS LESOTHO
- She worked with Dorcas AID Lesotho as a home based care giver.
- She is deputy chairperson of a local high-school board. (6th year on board).
- She represents woman in LESOTHO SMART PARTNERSHIP.
Malijo Baji has dedicated her life to fighting HIV, she is a strong believer in God and normally accompanies her inspirational testimony with her favorite scripture; Psalms 91.
Truly “Mosali o tsoara thipa ka bohaleng” –Lesotho proverb (loosely translated, a woman holds the knife in the blade)
BY MASUOANE ROBERT KAEANE