On a cloudy Saturday morning, Edward and more than a hundred friends gather for Dignitas International’s Teen Club at Zomba Central Hospital.
The 19 year-old, who tested positive for HIV in 2009, is a long-standing Teen Club member. He attends one of the public secondary schools in town and is comfortable sharing his experience so that others might benefit.
“This is the place where I feel free to discuss health issues affecting me because we are all in the same boat,” says Edward.
For Edward, Teen Club is safe space where he can be himself. This sense of freedom is paramount to the success of Teen Club. Brave Nyirenda is the Teen Club Coordinator for the South Eastern zone explains:
“Teen Club provides peer support group for adolescents living with HIV. The objective of the program is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for teens living with HIV, so they can build strong supportive relationships, strengthen their self-esteem, determine healthy lifestyle choices and develop other skills as they transition into adults.”
Dating and relationships can be difficult to navigate at any age, but there is a new level of complexity when you are a teenager living with HIV.
“Shortly after I started seeing my current girlfriend, she told me that she was HIV+. I also shared my status with her,” says Edward.
Healthy interactions with other teens who are experiencing similar emotions provide an opportunity to feel less isolated. Teen Club aims to help adolescents find a space to feel supported, encouraged and understood.
“We strive to give each teen the opportunity to share experiences with peers who are also living with HIV. Activities at monthly meetings include team-building, games, drama, crafts and health education sessions,” notes Brave.
In addition to coming in for their monthly check-ups and medication re-fills, participating HIV+ teens learn about adherence, nutrition and ways to manage their health.
Based on a model developed by the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, Dignitas International launched the Teen Club at Zomba Central Hospital in 2010. The facility is Malawi’s biggest referral hospital in the South East of the country. In 2013, Dignitas began supporting existing youth clubs in Balaka and Mangochi, and launched three new Teen Clubs in Mulanje, Phalombe and Machinga – bringing Teen Clubs to every district of the South East. More than 600 teens come to Teen Clubs each month.
“With the support of my friends, I am feeling hopeful. My Saturdays at Teen Club have helped me to realize that I can have a healthy future,” says Edward.
Help Dignitas celebrate 10 Years of Living Results by supporting a teen living with HIV. Make a donation to Dignitas International today.