With economic strengthening, a teen living with HIV in Tanzania forges a stronger future

January 17, 2024
A welding apprentice in Tanzania
Said, 17, who studied welding with support from the Pact-led ACHIEVE project, cuts a square metal pipe at his workshop. Credit: Aidan Tarimo/Pact

A workshop in a bustling town in western Tanzania crackles with the sizzling sound of metal welding, the rhythmic clanging of hammers and bright welding arc lights. Said, who is 17 and living with HIV, is in the center of it all. Today, he is an accomplished welder making a good living, but the road here was not easy. 

"My story's beauty lies in the fact that I have conquered the doubts of many," he says.

After losing his parents when he was just 1 year old, Said was taken in by his uncle. Seven years later, Said was found to be HIV-positive after visiting the hospital for chronic illness. With his uncle's help, Said started treatment, but stigma from other relatives was a tall hill he had to climb. Some relatives believed they could get infected by associating with Said, while others saw him as a curse. Yet Said remained strong and persevered. At the time he was enrolled in primary school, which he was unable to pass to join secondary school. This led him to remain at home. He later started to accompany his uncle to his welding workshop, where he developed an interest in metalwork and a desire to become financially independent.

In early 2021, Said’s life took a turn when he became part of the Kizazi Kipya program. Led by Pact and funded by USAID, the program helped orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV. Said stayed on when Pact and USAID transitioned to the following ACHIEVE project, which connected Said with care and treatment. 

Said was linked with Khadija, a community case worker. Khadija conducted regular monthly home visits with Said, during which she educated him and his uncle on various topics, including nutrition and the importance of medication adherence for people living with HIV. 

"I envisioned leading a healthy life and gaining financial independence,” Said remembers. “Mama Khadija emphasized that to reach that goal, I needed to maintain a nutritious diet, diligently follow my medication regimen and heed the advice of health care professionals."

In late 2021, Said was awarded a vocational scholarship from ACHIEVE to study welding and metal fabrication at St. Francis De Sales Vocational Training Centre. Said's determination soared to new heights, and by the end of that year, he had achieved HIV viral suppression. Said fondly recalls his time at the vocational center, where he met peers who were healthy and motivated to shape their destinies like him. 

"I met other young people determined to make something of themselves. In addition to acquiring technical skills, I received education in life skills, sexual and reproductive health and insights into entrepreneurship and business management," he says.

Following the successful completion of his three-month training, Said rejoined his uncle's workshop to refine his welding skills through apprenticeship. In late 2022, ACHIEVE provided him with a welding machine as part of a startup income-generating kit. With these valuable resources at his disposal, Said and a friend decided to take a bold step by opening their own welding workshop. They create customized metal products, including windows, beds and doors, tailored to the specific needs of their customers. Said earns a livelihood through this enterprise and manages to save up to TZS 30,000 (USD $12) per day.

Beyond financial success, Said has also gained acceptance and respect from his relatives through Khadija's outreach to his family. ACHIEVE continues to monitor Said's progress and facilitates his involvement in a youth savings and lending group, enabling him and fellow young people to access additional opportunities, such as interest-free loans from the local district council. Said extends an open invitation to other young people supported by ACHIEVE, encouraging them to seek apprenticeships after their vocational training.

“It’s like a spark igniting a fire,” he says with determination. 

“We have only a few tools today, but we won’t be the same tomorrow. We want our workshop to grow into a thriving enterprise, offering employment opportunities for more young people.”