In remote Lesotho, a transgender woman overcomes discrimination, finds purpose as an HIV peer educator

September 27, 2021

At age 25, Nthabie has experienced more than her share of difficulty in life. As a transgender woman from the remote outskirts of Butha-Buthe, in northern Lesotho, she was often bullied in school growing up. She managed to get fair grades but couldn’t continue on to a tertiary institution because of financial constraints at home. She was the only breadwinner for her family of three and eventually had to migrate to urban Butha-Buthe to look for work.

“It was my first time living in a central business district by myself,” she recalls. “But I had to leave home to make ends meet and survive.”

With no job skills, Nthabie found work as a security guard for a local company. Sometimes the company failed to pay her full salary, and sometimes they cheated her out of her wages altogether. She was also harassed by her co-workers because she is transgender. They would make her unload heavy deliveries of goods while telling her she “wasn’t man enough” to perform her duties.

Nthabie’s life began to change when, one day, she was invited by a peer educator with Phelisanang Bophelong to participate in a group HIV education session he was organizing. Phelisanang Bophelong is a local organization in Lesotho that partners with Pact through a project funded by Global Fund to reduce HIV rates in the country, which has been devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

“I feel like I have accomplished my dream because I am now an agent of change.”

Nthabie enjoyed the session and agreed to get tested for HIV, as she didn’t know her HIV status. “I started making friends with all of the peer educators because they understood me,” she says. “I felt so warm around them.” Soon their supervisor approached her about joining their ranks. They had an open position and thought Nthabie would be perfect for the job because of the passion she showed for educating others about HIV. She often brought friends to education sessions and encouraged them to get tested.

Nthabie was thrilled to accept and to leave the struggles of her old job behind. She received training in providing lay counselling to her community, enabling her offer HIV testing services to her peers, who are often afraid to visit health centers because of discrimination against transgender people and men who have sex with men. Nthabie makes an effort to reach out to her peers who are still in the closet, providing them with information about how they can receive health services without harm or discrimination.

“I feel like I have accomplished my dream because I am now an agent of change,” she says. “I play a significant role in changing the lives of MSM and LGBTIQ+ people.”