Feature story

In memory of Lynde Francis: HIV activist and beacon of hope

03 April 2009

By Sophie Dilmitis,
World YWCA, HIV and AIDS Coordinator
and International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (ICW) European Regional Representative.

Lynde Francis (8 November 1947 - 31 March 2009)

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Lynde Francis (8 November 1947- 31 March 2009). Lynde’s achievements, especially in HIV and AIDS are too many too mention in this article – what she managed to achieve in a lifetime – some never do in ten lifetimes.

There are some people who leave a mark on you after you have met them and there are some people whose words you hang on to and whose advice you cherish.  Lynde was one such person, not only to me but also to many people around the world. 

Lynde was one of the first women in Zimbabwe to disclose her HIV-positive status and did this to support the people of Zimbabwe. She started an organization called the Centre in her own living room at home and this grew into community based organization that supported thousands of people and was run by and for people living with HIV. The centre and the work she did nationally, regionally and internationally have become her legacy.

Lynde will be remembered and respected around the world for her advocacy and education efforts on all aspects of holistic management of HIV, as well as an advocate for the meaningful involvement of People Living with HIV (MIPA). Lynde was also the Southern African Regional Representative for the International Community of Women living with HIV (ICW) and a founding member of the Pan African Treatment Activists movement (PATAM). She served on the boards of Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN), Cedas Trust, Zimbabwe Activists on HIV and AIDS (ZAHA) and was a member of the regional reference group for the ecumenical HIV and AIDS initiative in Africa (EHEIA). Lynde was part of the Country Coordinating mechanism for Zimbabwe and a founding member of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV.

Lynde’s achievements, especially in HIV and AIDS are too many too mention in this article – what she managed to achieve in a lifetime – some never do in ten lifetimes. 

Lynde had some wonderful qualities and in so many ways Lynde was a pioneer.  She was a great listener and a healer, a brave advocate, an inspirational teacher, a friend and a mother to so many of us who were diagnosed HIV positive.

It is with unforgettable gratitude that I reflect and remember on how available she was to me and I wondered if she was like this with everyone that she worked with.  The more I saw of Lynde the more I realised that she was like this with everyone and always gave so much of herself.  With everything she had going on she really cared about people and I knew Lynde would always be there for me.

Sophie Dilmitis, World YWCA, HIV and AIDS Coordinator and ICW European Regional Representative.

I met Lynde over ten years ago at the age of 22. I had just been diagnosed HIV positive and my doctor had very little information on HIV. Life felt overwhelming and it was Lynde that explained to me what HIV was, how it worked and how I could look after my body. Lynde nurtured and invested in me so that I am fortunate enough to be in the position that I am in today. Ten years ago HIV treatment (ARVs) were not that accessible in Zimbabwe and totally unaffordable to almost all. I was confused and was trying to process many different opinions about what I should be doing. It was Lynde’s calm voice that resonated with me in my decisions about how to deal with my life with HIV. It was Lynde that took the time to deal with the rage that consumed me and she did this whilst working with so many others, running an organization and leading national campaigns.

It is with unforgettable gratitude that I reflect and remember on how available she was to me and I wondered if she was like this with everyone that she worked with.  The more I saw of Lynde the more I realised that she was like this with everyone and always gave so much of herself.  With everything she had going on she really cared about people and I knew Lynde would always be there for me.

I learnt many things from Lynde and would like to share the following with you:

  1. You life is your responsibility – Lynde once told me and many others, that she had a little box of tricks that she could have used to end her life.  She had created it when she first found out she was positive but she had such a passion for life that it was only ever used a reminder to her that life is worth fighting for and taught many people how to fight for their own lives and to take responsibility for their lives.
  2. Lynde had the greatest respect for people and their culture.  She had an incredible ability to empathise with people and put herself in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable this may have been sometimes. Lynde taught me that it is important to meet people where they are mentally, emotionally and culturally instead of pushing them to meet you.
  3. As activists we don’t have to be at every meeting in the world. The world won’t collapse without us. Things do carry on and we can’t be everywhere and do everything. Some people living with HIV have a sense of urgency and this was something that Lynde herself struggled with.

Lynde lived a full life and it is so clear that many people deeply loved Lynde and celebrate all that she was and did.  Like some of us, Lynde may have been afraid sometimes but in all the time that I knew her, I never saw her back away from a challenge. She was open and available to all who needed her and she had a heart of gold.

Lynde we will all miss you. You were so much to all of us and all we can do now is hold onto the memory of your great and powerful spirit and ensure that you live on in all of us whose lives you transformed.  We celebrate your life and all that you gave.

Lynde celebrated 23 years of living with HIV in March this year. She leaves behind a huge family around the world that includes ten grandchildren. We extend our sincere condolences to Lynde’s family and friends. We cry with you as we appreciate her life of service to women and men, especially those living with HIV and her unwavering commitment to young people.

Lynde will remain a beacon of hope for all of us.

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