New Front Gains Thrust

Botswana Press Agency, Mar. 1

GABORONE—Miss Stigma Free, Cynthia Leshomo is an epitome of a new front that is slowly gaining momentum against stigmatization of people living with HIV.

Leshoma is a soldier of hope, fighting the war against the scourge from a different front and is determined to change the global perception about HIV positive people.

Leshomo and other contestants took part in a different kind of a pageant Saturday in which they were simply asking the rest of the world that, despite their HIV/AIDS status, they also deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Together with her first and second princesses, Annah Ramotsisi and Neo Chitombo respectively, and other contestants, they are living proof that being HIV positive is not the end of the world.

Leshoma’s crowning as Miss Stigma Free 2005 at an elegant beauty pageant dubbed “Down with the stigma, down with discrimination” is testimony to Botswana’s energetic response to fighting the stigma associated with the scourge.

The aim of the pageant held in Gaborone was mainly to encourage people to eradicate HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination and to accept people living with HIV and AIDS.

In Botswana approximately 300 000 people are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, but out of this number only 13 have gone public due to the stigma associated with the disease.

“I am hopeful that a lot of people have seen how healthy and pretty we look, yet we are positive, so I don’t see how some people would still have the perception that if you are positive you have no life.

I am looking forward to working with people who are still ignorant about the whole issue and discriminate people with the virus, I am determined to change the world with my positive messages towards positive people,” said Leshomo.

For Chitombo the award winning pageant is a milestone in the history of the country.

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