Life took a drastic turn for 22-year-old Peaceful Kgomo (then 19) when, in May 2015, she and a bunch of friends decided to get themselves tested for HIV.
Little did the young woman from Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga know that the outcome of the test would change her life.
She tested positive. When she first saw the results, she could not believe her eyes, she told HuffPost in an interview just before World Aids Day on December 1.
"It felt like I was dreaming... I was disgusted, angry, upset at myself –– and I felt like my life was over," Peaceful says.
She was flooded with anxiety about dealing with discrimination –– especially from her peers and community –– and was convinced that her life had come to an end.
Peaceful says it took her a few months to come to terms with her status and accept it. She credits her family for making her believe that she could still live a healthy and stable life.
Now an HIV activist , Peaceful lives by the slogan, "Never a victim, always a fighter".
Being a young person living with HIV does not mean one should give up on life, she believes, but requires keeping your chin up and taking on the challenge head-on as a new start.
"The virus is something that lives inside your blood, and it shouldn't take control of your life –– because it is a resident in your body, you as a person need to be the owner of that resident and live your life without any doubts," Peaceful says.
'I don't let HIV define me, but I define what it means in my life.'– Peaceful Kgomo
She also encourages those who have not contracted the disease to practise safe sex, and encourages those living with the virus to follow their treatment unashamedly.
"I am all about advising young people to be cautious about their sex lives, because we tend to trust everyone we meet along [all] walks of life," she says.
She says this because she feels that being young in this day and age is difficult, given the experimental lifestyles that young people are exposed to, especially when it comes to sex –– and many forget to be cautious.
She says that she had to learn that the hard way, which is what motivates her to continue being an HIV activist.
'I am never a victim, but always a fighter. I rise above every situation I am faced with.'– Peaceful Kgomo
That is why, through the Peaceful Kgomo Foundation, a venture she started in 2016, she aims to reach out and contribute to educating young people in her community and eradicating the stigma that is attached to the virus.
It's that time of the year again for our 2nd Annual World Aids Day Awareness#WADA17#2Dec#TakeControlOfYourLife.#BeThereOrBeTold#Edutainment 💃💃💃💃— Peaceful Kgomo (@Peaceful_Kgomo) November 6, 2017
Please RT this might help someone in your TL to get informed pic.twitter.com/gB2vljfCuT
"I started the foundation for people who feel like prisoners in their own bodies, I am doing it for people who are ashamed to talk –– those who are shunned by the community for living with HIV and Aids," Peaceful says.
She adds that she will not let HIV define her, but instead defines it through her foundation –– which encourages the youth of her community to open up and talk about issues concerning the disease that affect them.
While World Aids Day is celebrated on December 1 every year to raise awareness about the disease, she noted that the event was not celebrated in her community, and decided to create her own signature event through the foundation under the name World Aids Day Awareness (WADA).
Her theme this year is: "Taking control of your life".
"WADA brings awareness to our communities, because people are ignorant about the virus, and we're often stigmatised. WADA strives to bring positive change to what people think, and how they look at those who are infected with the virus," Peaceful explains.
"Through a WhatsApp group that I also formed in conjunction with my foundation, we are able to discuss issues that affect us as the youth –– especially because we live with the disease, and we are able to advise each other. The reason for this group is so that we can always be there for each other, even when we are in different locations."