Someone once said that the true meaning of Christmas is not to open gifts, but to open our hearts. Despite the commercialisation of this holiday, it is always a time when communal spirit rises and spreads out through acts of charity and kindness.
In the daily round of their work throughout the year, the SA SURE project's Youth Ambassadors (YAs) – who form part of our district teams supporting the Department of Health's Adolescent and Youth-friendly Services (AYFS) – encounter many young people in dire and often tragic circumstances. While running a holiday programme at the end of 2019 in eThekwini, the YAs sought additional ways to relieve the plight of several orphaned and vulnerable youngsters – donating their own funds to do so.
Under the guidance of AYFS Champions, the YAs' role entails engaging with youth in facility-based Youth Care Clubs and running activities in AYFS Chill Rooms, to mobilise HIV Testing Services, distribute condoms, and educate groups about teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and general health issues. When young clients in need are identified, the YAs facilitate their access to health and social services through referrals to the clinic and relevant government departments, and recruit them for support groups and psychosocial advice where necessary.
Ten more Youth Ambassadors were added to the eThekwini team in the latter part of 2019, bringing the total of YAs are supporting the facilities to 50. They worked through the festive season to strengthen AYFS implementation, creating a surge in condom distribution, which is so important because safe sex practices reduce HIV infection incidence and prevalence.
The YAs function collectively and in strong partnership with the eThekwini Metro Department of Health to respond to youth health needs. Nthabiseng Malakoane of the Metro's Health Unit explains: "We work with HST's Youth Ambassadors and AYFS Co-ordinators to implement the Department of Health's Adolescent and Youth Health Programme. During December 2019, we identified several child-headed households in Verulam with young clients in urgent need of support in the form of food and toiletries."
"One young girl, whose caregiver grandmother had passed away that month, was not sure how she would be able to return to school in 2020. As a team, we felt that it was important to take personal and practical action in such cases. We gathered donations from colleagues to fund supplies of groceries and school fees. The Youth Development Office in the eThekwini Mayoral Parlour helped with provision of school uniforms."
After giving a health talk to promote AYFS and HIV testing at Amaoti Clinic in Phoenix, the YA referred a young girl who was feeling ill for testing, and she was found to be HIV-positive. She had previously been enrolled on HIV treatment in Stanger, but had defaulted on her medication when she moved back to her late parents' house after being raped by her uncle. The girl was re-initiated on antiretroviral therapy and received adherence and psychosocial counselling, and her sexual assault case was referred to the Department of Social Development. Through staff donations, the YA team supported the girl with provision of groceries.
Youth Ambassador Mbali Mzobe secured sponsorship from Vodacom for school stationery, which was delivered to Montarena High School in Chatsworth and Ndukwenhle High School in Umlazi R section on 12 February 2020.
Learners with their Vodacom-sponsored stationery packs.
Our AYFS team members are diligent and passionate about recognising their young clients' dignity and translating this commitment into creative, tangible support. Nthabiseng concludes: "Together, we want to do more to help young people and give them hope."
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