Putting the youth first

We chat to Anova’s Thulani Machere about the work she does with the youth of South Africa through our DREAMS partnership. Machere is passionate about the youth and DREAMS is allowing her and her team to make a difference.

Tell us a bit about yourself Thulani?

I am currently managing a programme called DREAMS at Anova Health Institute. DREAMS is an adolescent, and young women programme focusing on HIV and pregnancy prevention work and post-violence care. Our activities are focused around providing HIV testing services for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), as well as their male sex partners. This was based on current research and the HIV cycle of transmission. The research shows that sexually active AGYW are having sex with older men between the ages of 24-49, getting infected with HIV from the older men and later in their lives having sex with boys/men their own age and further infecting the young men with HIV.

Our second indicator is to offer sexual and reproductive health services to AGYW, which includes the education of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and improving the uptake of family planning or contraception services. We train professional and enrolled nurses in family and fertility planning and offer mentoring of long-term contraception (implant; IUD, etc.) at health facilities. The SRHR also includes the support for youth-friendly services at health facilities, which is a Lovelife model from the national Department of Health (DoH) to improve services to attract young people to take up services at these facilities.  The third indicator speaks to supporting survivors of violence, particularly sexual violence. We support the DoH medical forensic in providing the full package of care to survivors of violence and managing the process of referral from health facilities and the South African Police. Anova, through the DREAMS programme, offers gender-based violence (GBV) training to health facility staff and early signs of GBV training to AGYW.

The work you do involves the youth of South Africa. Why is it so important to focus on this section of society?

Girls and young women between the ages of 15-19 are eight times more likely to be infected than boys of the same age, and young women between the ages of 20-24 are three times more likely to be infected than young men in the same age group (HSRC Study). Girls and young women are more susceptible to high HIV infection rates; being sexually assaulted and having early or unwanted pregnancies. AGYW need to be supported with prevention programmes; psychosocial support and treatment and support programmes once they’ve gone through these stressful life events.

Do you think there is a link between the work you do and the 16 Days of Activism on No Violence Against Women and Children?

There is a link between what we do and the 16 Days of Activism. Anova, through DREAMS, supports survivors of gender-based violence every day. We are currently conducting GBV drives in three sub-districts, namely D (Soweto); E (Alex and Sandton) and G (Lenasia and Orange Farm. We have sensitised men on GBV as well as health facilities to avoid further gender-based violence against women and children, as well as secondary victimisation. Peer educators from TVET (previously FET) colleges have been trained on GBV to further train other students on campus. We have been assisting large cases in SA such as the AB Xuma Primary School which was recently in the news, with counselling services and further referral for continued care.

How does the work you do empower young women in SA?

We empower AGYW to make positive life changes and to put their future first. We launched a mini contraceptive campaign within DREAMS called #MyFutureFirst, which focuses on AGYW pledging to put their future first by saying NO to unwanted or early pregnancies and taking up contraception. It reminds this group to recall their goals and ambitions by actively taking up contraception, to put their future first. DREAMS stands for Determined; Resilient; Empowered; AIDS-free; Mentored and Safe – which is what the programme would like to see in AGYW.

What are you passionate about when it comes to these projects?

Seeing positive behaviour change; empowering girls and women to take charge of their lives when it comes to their health outcomes and seeing survivors of GBV receive help post their traumatic ordeal.

What are some of your goals beyond these 16 Days of Activism?

To reach as many AGYW as possible with positive messaging on GBV, further empowering them to take up services provided to them and strengthening messaging to health workers to prevent secondary victimisation to survivors of violence. Including men in fighting GBV.

What do you wish more people knew about the work that you do?

I wish they knew how difficult it is to speak to testing and preventing pregnancies in AGYW when there are so many dynamics about family and social relationships and psychosocial issues that govern why our young people don’t use condoms or why they allow themselves to fall pregnant. I wish more people knew about our beautiful mobile unit which was specifically designed to service AGYW and their sexual and reproductive health needs. I wish families understood how much impact they have on the decisions their children make.

How can people in society do more to assist the plight of young women and children in SA?

Speak up when they see violence against others, never turn a blind eye when seeing others violated. Men need to take charge of changing the scene of violence in SA – actively support or initiate campaigns to stand up against abuse – this includes breaking the ‘normalising’ of harassment in a society where men feel superior to females. Every single person must stand up and do something; it’s everyone's responsibility.


To keep in touch with our work within DREAMS and where the teams will be with their mobile unit – please follow us on social media, Twitter and Facebook, @MyFutureFirstSA.

More here on #MyFutureFirst

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