Limpo Likisi has ventured into areas where many young Zambian women would never set foot.

As a community peer educator, lay HIV trainer and counselor, and Monitor and Evaluation Focal Point Person at St. John Parish in Mongu, Zambia, 27-year-old Limpo understands the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, safer sexual practices and healthier lifestyle choices.

Limpo joined PCI’s Church Partnerships for Positive Change (CPPC) program in 2012 and began working as a peer educator at her church, St. John Parish under the Catholic Diocese, providing health education and referrals to HIV services.

Funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PCI’s CPPC program focused on strengthening the capacity of church communities to decrease HIV transmission in Zambia.

Today, Limpo is one of 600 dedicated lay counselors for the CPPC program in Mongu. In the past 12 months, Limpo and her small team of church volunteers reached 19,743 individuals (11,129 female; 8,614 male) with HIV messages; 12,324 individuals (6,797 female; 5,527 male) with standardized multi-session HIV prevention interventions that includes the specified minimum components and also provided HIV services directly to 3,057 people (1,551 female; 1,506 male) and 4,694 through referral.

“The work that Limpo and other community health workers are doing— they are the backbone of the HIV program. They are the ones who go into the communities and have one-to-one counseling, carry out HIV tests and refer to treatment, care and support.”

– Father Micheal Ngosa, St. John Parish

On a typical day, Limpo travels to a satellite church community to provide information on HIV and the benefits of HIV Testing and Counseling services. Along with other volunteers, Limpo goes door-to-door educating others about the importance of knowing one’s health status and helps motivate them to change sexual behaviors.

The team of church volunteers also test clients and ensure that identified HIV-positive clients are linked and referred to Lewanika hospital located several miles away. Many of the communities that CPPC serves in Mongu are very remote. In order to make sure these people get the health care they so desperately need, the team regularly conducts outreach Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) services in areas such as Mulumo (in the plain), Nomai (near Sefula), and Ikuwa, which is a three-hour drive away from the nearest hospital.

To ensure the clients are able to complete the continuum of care, the team provides escort or “buddy” services that can help prevent and reduce clients’ loss to follow up. They also work to address stigma, gender norms, and gender-based and sexual violence.

Limpo’s passion and drive to educate her others about HIV goes beyond her current job.

She first became involved with HIV and AIDS after her elder sister contracted the virus, became very sick and was hospitalized several times for malaria and tuberculosis. Her sister tried many different treatments but nothing seemed to work; she just wasn’t getting better.

“There are many people who are ill or have died of AIDS. When I saw my half sister losing weight and other families suffering, I got very sad. Sometimes I get very angry and wonder if I will get sick too.”

– Limpo Likisi, CPPC program leader and HIV/AIDS Educator

Believing that she would not live, the husband of Limpo’s sister abandoned her and Limpo became the primary caretaker. She was determined to nurse her loved one back to good health. And through the process, Limpo became better acquainted with the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Today, her sister is alive and healthy and continues to take her antiretroviral medication. She also volunteers her time at the VCT “walk-in-centre” run by the Zambia Episcopal Conference’s Catholic Diocese of Mongu Home-based Care program (HBC), a partner of the CPPC program. Inspired by her family experience, Limpo pursued more training on HIV and AIDS, as well as psychological counseling and communication. Spared from the virus herself, Limpo shared she feels fortunate to help others understand how to make healthier lifestyle choices. Her confidence as a peer educator has grown tremendously over the past couple years.

“I’m grateful to CPPC for teaching me how to carry out HIV testing and counseling services. “What makes me happy is to meet people and give them information and the services they would not have  accessed considering the distances they have to cover before getting      to the nearest health facilities.”

– Limpo Likisi, CPPC program leader and HIV/AIDS Educator

She admits she had an unconventional path to the work she sees as a calling. After completing high school, she could not afford to pay for her school fees to further her education.

However, she believes that her humble upbringing and genuine empathy is what has made her so passionate about helping others. As a child, she remembers watching her mother caring for the sick in the community. This had a big impact on her outlook about life.

Limpo believes that the CPPC project has been a success because most of the people in her community now know the basics about HIV and AIDS and are less shy or afraid to speak openly about about topics such as sexuality and condom use. Their open and frank discussions are even more impressive given the conservative religious and cultural setting of Mongu.

“I feel very proud because of the work I do which makes a difference to lives of many people in our community,” she added.