‘Poor, HIV-positive and abused by her husband’: Manchester charity vows to empower Zambia’s most vulnerable

By Helen Le Caplain

Sandra is a young single mum living in Zambia suffering from cancer and HIV.

She has no idea how old she is as her own mother died at birth and no-one told her who her father is.

After a tough start in life it looked like Sandra was going to get her happy ending having got married and given birth to a beautiful baby girl called Mary.

However in a cruel twist of fate she was abandoned a second time by her husband and left struggling to bring up their one-year-old child, who is also HIV positive, while she battled her own health issues.

Sandra was discovered by African NGO SAPEP (Simalelo AIDS Peer Education Programme) while she was in hospital, too sick to care for Mary and surrounded by staff who were too busy to care.

But now Sandra is known to the welfare office, she receives food for herself and her child while SAPEP is rallying her neighbours to support her on a long-term basis.

Almost 5,000 miles away Manchester charity PEPAIDS is working in partnership with SAPEP to help empower the poorest and most vulnerable in Zambia.

PEPAIDS CEO, and Wythenshawe Hospital nurse, Helen Allen explained that although Sandra’s case sounds exceptional it is something that many Zambian women sadly face.


Helen said: “Elements of Sandra’s situation are tragically common to many women and girls in Zambia.

“Desperately poor, orphaned, young, sick and abused by her husband in a culture that expects it – her story isn’t that extraordinary after all and SAPEP works tirelessly to challenge those norms.”

Sadly Sandra has no family or friends to turn to and until SAPEP rally a support network around her the CEO, Wilson Nyirenda, has taken her baby daughter Mary into his care while Sandra is treated in hospital.

Zambian nurses assume responsibility only for delivering essential medical care for Sandra while Wilson and his family tend to her other needs such as eating, bathing and being loved.

Helen added: “Wilson can’t take in every vulnerable baby he sees, nor can he personally reach out to every orphan, but he knows their communities can.

“The solution is simple – help communities to pull together to look after their own.”

In the face of one economic crisis after another over the last 12 years PEPAIDS and SAPEP have run projects addressing gender inequality, sexual health, poverty, and limited education.

Their latest project, Growing Futures, will work closely with communities to help plan long-term care for orphaned and vulnerable children to help prevent Sandra’s story ever being repeated.

You can donate to the project, like Dame Helen Mirren, Darcey Bussell and Ellie Goulding have, by taking part in the Great Big Christmas Card Competition.

For more information about PEPAIDS visit

Featured picture courtesy of  ©2008, Frederic Courbet for International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) via Flickr, with thanks.

Picture courtesy of Erik Cleves Kristensen via Flickr, with thanks

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Articles