Public Relations graduate Kwilole Chisuse-van der Boom is using the skills she developed at BU to not only forge a career in healthcare communications, but to also lead a charity supporting children orphaned by HIV.

Kwilole, who gradated in 2013, has been actively involved in the Funsani charity since it was launched by her mother in 2002. As a child, she and her siblings would put on variety shows to help raise funds for the children in Zambia who had lost their parents and homes. Today she chairs the charity, which funds the Funsani Home orphanage in Kitwe. Kwilole explains: “The launch of the charity was very personal to my family. My mother had lost her mother and brother to HIV, and then went on to lose her sister. When her sister died, she left a young son who couldn’t be adopted and who had nowhere to live. It was a tragic situation and my mother decided to use her sister’s home to set up an orphanage to help my cousin and others like him.”

Since then the home and charity has supported 15 young people through a combination of accommodation, care and access to education. Having grown up with such a close connection to the cause, taking on a more formal role within the charity seemed a logical next step for Kwilole. She said: “When I turned 18, I joined the board and then, on leaving university, I took up the position of chairperson as my mother decided to take a step back. I feel like I have grown up with the children at the orphanage and it is wonderful to remain involved and to be now helping to make plans for the charity’s next steps. Along the way there have been many high points. Two of our children have gone on to qualify as engineers and one is now a nurse. We were also able to partner with Maanu Mbwami school in Livingstone to fund new toilet facilities which has made a real impact on the pupils’ wellbeing and educational experience.” 

The prevalence of HIV in Zambia is high, with 1.2m people (11.3%) living with HIV (UNAIDS, 2018). A number of the young adults who have grown up at Funsani Home are HIV positive and throughout their childhood the charity has supported by providing access to medication and promoting HIV awareness. 

Kwilole said: “The situation seems bleak but when you are working with children there is always hope. Whenever I visit I am struck by the joy of the children I meet. They have so little but find happiness in what is around them. At the same time there have been major advances in the treatment of HIV. It is now a manageable condition that doesn’t need to lead to AIDS and we are working to tackle the stigma and to get help to those who need it.”

Alongside her involvement with the charity, Kwilole is a Senior Account Manager at Ashfield MedComms. She said: “During my degree I completed a placement year in healthcare communications, specifically within HIV treatment, and it enabled me to bring together my interests. The degree and placement set me onto a career where I could use my communication skills to increase patient understanding and access to healthcare. It also means I can employ strategic communication skills to support the charity’s aims. While I didn’t appreciate the full value of my public relations degree before starting out on it, I am now incredibly grateful for all that it gave me.”