Follow us on an intervention and meet those inspiring change in Lesotho
On 5th February, two members of the London office, Fundraising Manager Caroline Lough and Communications Officer Elsa Buchanan, joined Sentebale Coordinator, Lulu, to visit the Youth Hub programme in Leribe, a district in the lowlands of Lesotho, which is about two hours from Sentebale’s flagship ‘Mamohato Children’s Centre.
Sentebale’s Youth Hub is focused on promoting positive behaviours. It is a strategy that applies targeted messages and tailored approaches to encourage healthy behaviours and reduced risk taking, targeting 10-24 year olds through a variety of interventions – ranging from peer educator sessions, worth groups that empower young women to save money and start their own businesses, to testing and referral services so young people know their status and seek treatment if needed. For those who test HIV positive, they are automatically referred to Sentebale Clubs, which are run through local health facilities, and Sentebale camp for those needing more intensive support.
Our visit started at the Motebang Hospital Leribe, which hosts Sentebale’s satellite Youth Hub office in the district, before travelling on to the peer educator session, which on this occasion was directed at herd boys, young shepherds who tend livestock from as young as six. Because they travel to the remote highlands to care for livestock as a way of supporting their families, these young people miss out on the opportunity to receive a formal education as well as access to public health services. These sessions are run by Peer Educators, who are volunteers trained by Sentebale. Typical topics covered range from HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) education, condom usage, their rights, how to have healthy relationships and culture and gender sessions.
We arrive in Ha-Khabo via a dirt track, picking up our two Peer Educators, P. and D., along the way. We reach the site along a dirt track and it quickly becomes too rough to continue, so we set off on foot to reach the session. As herd boys live a nomadic lifestyle, it can be difficult to bring them together, however P., who is still a herd boy himself, has done a great job of organising the group to meet ‘under the cattle post by the tree’, about a 15-minute walk from our truck.
The topic of today’s session is HIV/STI knowledge on condom usage. This is the third time this group of herd boys has come together for a peer educator session. The group are aged between 16-24, however many look younger.
P. starts the session off by asking what the group know about HIV, how it is transferred, the importance of knowing your status, how you can get tested, and the importance of having one partner. This was followed by a session on how to use a condom – the right (and wrong) way to put it on, how it should be taken off to reduce the risk of infection and how it should be disposed of.
A flurry of questions and comments follow – What is the difference between HIV and AIDS? What do you do when you miss taking your antiretroviral (ARV) treatment? Why do you need to get tested after each partner, and why can you test negative one month and positive a few months later? How do you know or check if a condom has expired?
The group also raised concerns around accessing care. There are insecurities about going to the clinic where they can be seen to get tested or collect their ARVs. P. offers his support. Instead of them going to the clinic to get tested, a mobile clinic will visit them on 15th February so they are in a safe, private space. He also offers to accompany any of them to the clinic to collect their ARVs.
The young men were are also self-conscious of their ARVs rattling in the bottle in their pockets – a common concern – as people will now categorise them as HIV positive and they will be open to stigmatisation. P. went through simple solutions to this problem, suggesting putting a cloth in the bottle above the seal or transferring them to a plastic bag.
We end the session with condom distribution, and a signing of the Sentebale register to keep track of who is attending sessions. The herd boys in this intervention asked some very interesting questions, and it was clear there is a great need for the correct education concerning their health and wellbeing and the need to build trust between them and the health facilities where they collect their ARVs, get tested or simply discuss any medication issues they have including protection and infections.
Read more about Lesotho’s herd boys, a marginalised section of the community and one of its most vulnerable populations, here.