Smart & Responsible Teens
By: Peter Twyman | April 17th, 2014
Earlier this year, Tayla Colton, KCA’s Senior Director of Programs, and I spent time with the staff and clients at the Family Care Clinic (FCC), a pediatric HIV center located in Mombasa, Kenya, within the busy Coast Provincial Hospital.
Dr. Shaffiq Essajee, a world-renowned pediatric HIV specialist, founded and continues to run this small miracle of a clinic, which in fact, was our very first partner back in 2003, the year Keep a Child Alive was founded.
During our time there we learned of an exciting new initiative targeting the needs of young people living with HIV, a group that is often stigmatized, misunderstood and underserved.
The highlight of the visit was an opportunity to meet with the group leading this initiative: Smart and Responsible Teens. Forty-members strong, the close-knit group was formed to provide peer support, meeting regularly to discuss topics such as addressing stigma, taking medications, and disclosing one’s HIV status to friends and family.
A new member, Jonathan (not his real name) had joined the group on the day of our visit. At fourteen years old, he had been in the care of FCC for many years, but he didn’t know why he went to this particular clinic or why even he was taking medicine—his HIV-positive status had yet to be disclosed to him (the clinic respects parents wishes of how and when to inform their child).
Jonathan’s mother who for years had been counseled by FCC’s Dr. Samira, decided that today was the day she would tell her son— and so, for the first time Jonathan learned that he was HIV-positive. Obviously devastated, he was comforted by the team.
Dr. Samira introduced Jonathan to one of the leaders of Smart and Responsible Teens, who invited him to join the group meeting scheduled later in the day. During our discussion with the teens, Jonathan spoke out, bravely retelling his story and expressing already his gratitude for the group’s support.
He left that day with the phone numbers and email addresses of other members, with the confidence of new friends, of teens like him who knew his challenges well and who could guide him through the more difficult of times—including while he is away at school.
Jonathan’s story illustrates the importance of programs and services directed not only to young people but led by young people, groups that can provide an additional layer of support atop, in the case of FCC, an already loving and dedicated clinical team.
I admire in this group a level of organization and ambition that stands well beyond the years of its members. Smart and Responsible Teens offers invaluable insights to the team at FCC, detailing exactly what it can do and what the group itself can do to better meet the particular needs of young people living with HIV.
And they are dreaming big—recently requesting help to construct a youth center on the hospital grounds where the group can take classes, hold support meetings, and above all—have some fun.
We are hoping to make it happen soon!