Hi! My name is Daniela Garone, Medical Program Manager with Dignitas International. I am writing to Give a Day supporters so you can know what a powerful impact you have when you donate to Dignitas! I want to share with you the special impact of our Teen Club program.
Being a teenager in Canada is hard. There is a lot of pressure to fit in and not be perceived as different. This challenge isn’t so different for the teens that I meet at Dignitas International’s Teen Club in Malawi, where HIV+ teens receive support and care.
These teens, despite their HIV+ status, are looking for the same sense of social belonging that Canadian teens are seeking. Yet the stigma around HIV and the need to take medication on a daily basis are concerns most teens – in Canada and in Malawi – do not have to worry about.
Stigma and fear can mean that HIV+ teens do not access the treatment they need to stay healthy or that they stop treatment due to social pressure and feelings of isolation. As if things weren’t challenging enough, many adolescents living with HIV in Malawi are more likely to be orphans who are dealing with serious concerns about food security, livelihood and shelter, in addition to their health.
These teens need special support. Many health programs are targeted to meet the health needs of children and adults, but there is an urgent need to expand teen-friendly care and awareness of adolescent health needs.
In 2010, Dignitas responded to these needs by starting Teen Club to provide comprehensive services for HIV+ teens, including medical care, peer support and HIV education. As I write today, the program has grown to 12 Teen Club sites providing care to more than 1,600 teens.
Teen Club is one of my favourite days of the month. On a Saturday morning, something special happens across the South East Zone. HIV+ teens come together to receive their medication and specialized healthcare.
Dignitas staff and special mentors lead social and peer-support activities, like large group games, sports, dance, drama, and arts and crafts. Our Teen Club Coordinators incorporates educational components including HIV education, so that teens better understand growth and development, life skills, healthy sexuality, gender issues and financial literacy.
We give special attention to supporting teens to stay on prescribed HIV treatment, as this is essential to ensuring productive, healthy lives. Thanks to our generous supporters, Teen Club is a positive space for HIV+ teens to work through their challenges with the support of their peers.
We know that Teen Club is working. Dignitas research shows that 95% of our Teen Club participants stay on HIV treatment, greatly improving their health. Teen Club members are three times more likely than their peers to stay on treatment when compared to their HIV+ peers who do not have access to such supportive care.
When you make a donation to Dignitas’ Teen Club through Give a Day, you are supporting vulnerable HIV+ teens to grow into healthy and productive adults. Thank you!