ICRW applied its expertise in research, program design and evaluation to examine the variety of ways in which adolescent girls in four rural Tanzanian communities are vulnerable to HIV. In partnership with the local nongovernmental organization, Taasisi ya Maendeleo Shirikishi Arusha (TAMASHA), we then designed a pilot project to address girls’ most pressing risks. The project was called “Vijana Tunaweza Newala” or “Vitu Newala,” which means “Newala Youth Can.” It was implemented in Newala District, Tanzania.
The effort was unique because it was entirely driven by youth: Newala’s girls defined their own needs. They led and interpreted research on the issues that affected them. Then, together with other community members – including young men and adults – they came up with ways to reduce the risky environment that contributed to their vulnerability to HIV and unwanted pregnancies.
Anecdotal evidence shows that in a short time, Vitu Newala made a difference. Here’s what some of the youth researchers and program participants* told us about the risks they face and how the project helped them:
On perceptions of girls:
“People see me differently now because I’ve been called to do trainings ... Even adults see me as different from the other girls,” said Amina, a 21-year-old youth researcher. “I got different ideas and views from the other girls and I learned about the problems we face, even some I didn’t know about before. I was so happy to do the research and to talk to girls in my community.”
A 19-year-old young man who helped lead peer-to-peer activities said he thinks of girls in his community differently now. “These changes are very important to me, my friends and my family as now they know the consequence of men’s behavior towards girls,” he said. “Some of them are our sisters, because when we are doing this to the girls outside, there are some boys out there who are doing the same to our sisters.”
“People treat me differently now. I feel like a president! I feel different now because I’m able to talk to my peers and get them to listen to me. They take my advice and allow me to explain things to them,” said Hawa, 23.
“I have a daughter, and I have decided that I won’t initiate her too young. I might have done it before coming to do the research. Before, I didn’t know the problems that early initiation can cause.” Hawa said that when she does allow her daughter to participate in the initiation, “I want to be sure she has self-awareness and that she knows sex can lead to pregnancy, HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis and other problems. I’ll teach her to avoid temptations from boys and men in the world. I’ll teach her how to say ‘no’ firmly.”
On sexual and reproductive health education:
“Teenage pregnancy is rampant in my village. Now, as an advisor, I can call the girls together and I can help,” said Hadija, 20. “I’m a girl like them; I can explain the dangers of boys in the community and help find ways to avoid these problems. I’d like to learn more about family planning to help them prevent pregnancy in the first place.”
Some girls said they don’t get any practical information at school about how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies. “They talk to us about our body and the different parts, but they don’t’ tell us anything useful,” said a participant from the 12- to 14-year-old group. “What we really need to know is how do girls get pregnant and how can we avoid that?”
“I was so happy at the first sessions because we talked about these things,” a 17-year-old girl said about discussions on sexuality and reproductive health. “Nobody else talks to us about these things.”
On girls’ risk and fractured families:
“I feel different about myself now because I’ve learned about things that put me at risk as a girl. Now I can avoid these dangers and can help other girls avoid them, too,” said 21-year-old Leila. “There are so many ways I’ve benefitted from this experience. We’re just happy that you thought about Newala and came here to help us deal with the problems we face. Now we hope you can do more things to help us make changes in Newala.”
“If your family sends you to the farm to work and you get raped in the bush, people ask you why you went to the farm alone. But why did they tell you to go there alone when they know it’s dangerous?” said a participant from the program’s 15- to 17-year-old group.
“Nowadays, families break up all the time and parents end up seeing children as a nuisance and nobody cares for them,” an adult community member said. “They end up begging in the streets. Nobody protects them or provides for them.”
“We’re learning because of this education,” a 17-year-old boy said. “Even for older men in their 40s, they used to go with girls as young as 12 or 15 years old and have sex with them. That character is changing now because they’re seeing the risks they bring to girls.”
*In accordance with ICRW’s research protocols, program participants are not identified.