Mentoring equips girls and young women with confidence to overcome challenges
Beatrice, a young woman from Gulu in northern Uganda, has experienced more hardships in her 22 years than many people face in a lifetime. Before she was born, her father was killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group. Raised by a single mother, Beatrice had to stop attending school during form six because they struggled for money. She eventually became pregnant by a man whose HIV status she did not know. Beatrice confides that this was one of the worst periods of her life: being a young, single mother living with her own mother and being unsure of her HIV status.
Beatrice made it through this difficult time with the help of Anyaka Makwiri, a mentoring program FHI 360 implements on behalf of the YouthPower Action project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program includes group-based mentoring; curricula on sexual and reproductive health, healthy decision-making, financial capabilities, soft skills and gender issues; activities to improve social connectedness; group-based savings; optional onsite testing for pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); and links to sexual and reproductive health treatment and services, including contraception and gender-based violence services.
Mentoring fosters constructive relationships among youth, their families and communities and builds the protective assets youth need to succeed. Group-based mentoring programs have demonstrated promise in improving adolescent girls’ and young women’s reproductive health knowledge and behavior, academic achievement, financial behavior and social networks. These programs can also reduce their experience of violence and prevent negative reproductive health outcomes.
Beatrice is like many adolescent girls and young women who face a disproportionate risk of acquiring HIV and experiencing other negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. In eastern and southern Africa, 80 percent of new HIV infections in adolescents occur among girls and young women. For many young women, their vulnerability is compounded by social isolation and a lack of economic opportunity.
Through the YouthPower Action mentoring program, Beatrice obtained critical health and financial information and learned her HIV status. She said that the program taught her and her peers about the disadvantages of early sexual debut and early marriage; provided career guidance and counseling; offered tools to manage stress, anger and conflict; promoted menstrual hygiene management; and encouraged seeking one’s own income.
Beatrice explained that the program is now in high demand in her community, which is in a post-conflict recovery period. She believes that many adolescent girls and young women could benefit from this program because they are exposed to a number of risks and need to build their self-esteem and confidence to be assertive. Anyaka Makwiri has helped young women like Beatrice realize their potential and live better lives.
Photo caption: Beatrice is a participant in the YouthPower Action Anyaka Makwiri project in Uganda.
Photo credit: © The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) Uganda