We are proud to celebrate Choma’s 10 years in service.
We are proud to see the journey that Choma has travelled to date and the role that each and every one of you has played in contributing to this growth. We are proud of the contribution Choma has made to the many lives of adolescent girls and young women, as well as the adolescent boys and young men that have walked alongside their sisters and partners towards an HIV free generation.
We haven’t walked this journey alone. We have walked with amazing partners at community level and corporate level, as well as within the donor community, all of whom trusted Choma to be the instrument that contributes to a reduction in the high levels of HIV infection in girls and young women.
Choma Magazine is committed to gender equality, reduction in high HIV transmission rates in girls and young women, as well as seeing women gain economic freedom through achieving their highest aspirations in all spheres of their lives.
Palesa Ramakhetheng is a beneficiary at Khomanani community-based organisation in Vlakfontein in the south of the City of Johannesburg, sub-district G. Khomanani is one of HIVSA’s 39 sub-partners implementing the HIV/AIDS in Vulnerable Populations (PHVP) Program. The centre provides several services such as nutritional support, and homework assistance and was previously implementing the DREAMS Program including the Choma Innovation Café.
Khomanani received a Choma Innovation Café from HIVSA. The Choma Innovation Cafés aim to support Programmes such as the PHVP Programme that is currently being implemented at Community-Based Organisations, this is done by providing online information on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and other health-related information as well as creating a safe space for interaction on the abovementioned subjects for 10 – 19-year-old Adolescent Girls & Young Women (AGYW) and boys. The Choma Innovation Cafes were funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. Palesa Ramakhetheng was one of the young girls who accessed the café. She is from a single-parent household. The household depends on Child support grant and food packs they receive from Khomanani Health Group.
Palesa was enrolled in the Choma Café in 2017 at the age of 12 years. She attended structured interventions on SRH offered in the Café as well as Vhutshilo 1 sessions. Vhutshilo 1 is a structured intervention that aims to educate young people between the ages of 10 and 14 safe from HIV and STIs. In 2019 Palesa was appointed as a member of the Child Advisory Board (CAB). The purpose of the CAB is to engage and empower youth along with their families and communities to ensure that youth are empowered to reach their full potential by being given a platform in which to express themselves. Palesa took on program leadership responsibilities by actively providing input to the program and informing them how the program is best implemented for them, this involves having a close relationship with onsite facilitators and providing ongoing feedback. Through the SRH sessions, Palesa learnt about different ways of preventing HIV. She was tested for HIV, and she knows her status. In 2020 she was initiated on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and she is still on PrEP to date. PrEP is medicine youth at risk of contracting HIV take to prevent getting HIV. Palesa continues to take PrEP to ensure she stays HIV-negative.
Palesa also had the opportunity to access the Choma café for school research and homework assistance. Although she has always been a good student, Palesa gives credit to the Choma Café for passing her Grade 12 with a Diploma in 2022. She is awaiting acceptance at one of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges she applied to. According to Palesa.
“Choma made me fit in at school. No one could see my struggles and that I could not afford data.”
Linda Zondi is a beneficiary at Sinethemba community based organisation in Soweto. Sinethemba is a sub partner of HIVSA. The centre provides a number of services such as beneficiary meals, homework assistance and was previously implementing the DREAMS Program. Sinethemba is currently a PHVP partner, which is a programme that is aimed at Preventing HIV and AIDS in Vulnerable Populations.
Sinethemba received a Choma Innovation Café from HIVSA. The Choma Innovation Cafés aim to support Programmes such as the PHVP Programme that is currently being implemented at Community Based Organisations, this is done by providing online information on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and other health related information as well as creating a safe space for interaction on the abovementioned subjects for 10 – 19 year old Adolescent Girls & Young Women (AGYW) and boys. The Choma Innovation Cafes are funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. Linda Zondi was one of the young men who accessed the café.
Linda has attended Vhutshilo 2 sessions. Vhutshilo 2 is a structured intervention that aims to keep young people between the ages of 10 and 17 safe from HIV and STIs. In the year 2021 there was an opportunity for all beneficiaries under the PHVP program to apply for the Charlize Theron Africa Outreached Project Youth Leadership Scholarship (CTAOP YLS). Linda together with 4 AGYW were shortlisted for the scholarship. Linda was further provisionally accepted for the scholarship pending his final Matric Results. It came as no surprise when results came out that Linda had passed his Matric. This is what he has to say about the scholarship:
“I would firstly love to thank Sinethemba, HIVSA and CTAOP for the opportunity given to me. I am Linda Zondi and I am a UJ Student studying Diploma in Marketing in the UJ Auckland Park Bunting Campus. CTAOP has changed my life in a big way. Growing up considering my background and my neighbourhood, going into varsity was something which was beyond impossible. I didn't believe that I was going to get in because of the unavailability of funds and I didn't believe that I would go o varsity. That was until I got the application forms of the CTAOP Youth Leadership Scholarship.”
As part of the CTAOP YLS Linda’s tertiary fees are fully paid for and he attends Leadership Seminars. He has had the opportunity to speak to Charlize Theron the founder of CTAOP. He is working towards his goals. Linda is proof that with determination and hard work one can reach the stars.
As an organisation that champions health and social development, strengthening unemployed youth’s access to work readiness training and support, on-the-job training opportunities, and links to employment is an area that HIVSA is passionate about. South Africa has persistently high rates of youth unemployment with the official unemployment rate for youth aged 15-24 years currently pegged at 42,1% according to Statistics South Africa (2022). The ever-increasing rates of unemployment among youth has laid bare the vulnerability of youth's economic futures and further compromised their ability to thrive. In response to this, HIVSA has partnered with the Youth Employment Service (YES), a South African not-for-profit (NPO) whose primary objective is to identify and mobilize corporate enterprises to create work opportunities for youth by leveraging government’s existing programs like B-BBEE recognition for broad-based economic transformation. The HIVSA/YES joint initiative has resulted in several youths being placed within various HIVSA departments to gain twelve-months’ quality work experiences.
Our first cohort of 11 female youth were placed on the 1st June 2021. Many of these young women were previous beneficiaries of programmes implemented by HIVSA through Community- Based Organisations (CBOs). The youth were placed in different sections of the organisation that include programme implementation, monitoring, reporting, administration, finance, and human resource departments.
On the 28th of June 2022, the first cohort of the youth were invited to a “In Conversation with the CEO” session. The session gave youth a platform to share their experiences and to offer suggestions for improving future placements of youth at HIVSA.
For many of the youth, their placement at HIVSA was their first form of formal employment. HIVSA was appraised for its abilities to leverage its health and social interventions with economic strengthening programming to improve youth resilience and outcomes.
Having employment meant that they were recognised in their families as “contributors” not only from a financial point of view but also in making important decisions within their families.
The youth indicated that despite being from the very communities within which HIVSA programmes are implemented, they were not aware of the extreme poverty and hopelessness that exists in their communities. The opportunity to conduct home visits and meaningfully engage with families helped develop their understanding of the needs of vulnerable groups and their ability to empathise with the clients they visited.
For those youth that were placed to run specific interventions within the programme, they reported the difficulties experienced in discussing the topic of HIV with parents and caregivers of children living with HIV. This was also experienced in cases where the parents or caregivers themselves were living with HIV.
For HIVSA, supporting the employment of these women re-affirms our belief in community development being driven by the very individuals that live in those communities. It confirms that given the resources, capacity building and support, our most vulnerable can rise above their challenges and identify sustainable solutions to create a positive future for themselves and their communities.
According to the UNAIDS “Prevention Gap Report” (2016), gender inequalities that result in gender- based and intimate partner- based violence increase women and girls’ physiological vulnerability to HIV and their ability to access HIV services. Having worked in the HIV space for 20 years, HIVSA has primarily focussed on the psychosocial and economic factors contributing to HIV infections in South Africa specifically among vulnerable populations such as Adolescent Girls and Young Women.
Current interventions to reduce HIV infections among girls and young women target this very group with layered evidence- based interventions, psychosocial support and health referrals and material support. While these interventions go a long way in empowering and equipping girls and young women with the information and tools, they need to make informed and responsible choices, HIVSA wonders if we are not setting girls up for failure when expecting them to make different and empowering choices within a society that has remained unchanged? Patriarchy, intimate partner violence, inequitable laws and harmful traditional and cultural practices continue to perpetuate unequal power dynamics between men and women. Is it fair to expect girls and women to not only take care of their own health and well- being but to also change historical social norms and unequal gender practices that have passed through generations? What role do our community leaders, boys and men play in bringing about this change? How do we tap into the wisdom of those that have led the way for years to affect change in the present?
In celebrating its 20th Anniversary, HIVSA hosted a roundtable discussion with the female leaders of some of our community- based partners. There was high tea and there were hats but there was also a formidable and powerful presence of women making a daily difference in the lives of orphans, vulnerable children and young people in their communities. The women mentioned cross cutting themes of poverty, cultural norms, substance abuse, socialisation and unequal power dynamics between men and women but most importantly shared their own experiences of gender- based violence.
Following a robust discussion there was a collective commitment to addressing prevailing societal barriers to gender equality using a community engagement approach. There was an acknowledgment that men, traditional leaders and religious institutions are powerful gatekeepers and need to be actively engaged to jointly finding solutions. There was a call for more involvement of donors and corporate South Africa and an insistence that boys and young men including members of the LGBTQI+ community be brought along and included in gender equality programmes.
HIVSA has worked in the HIV space since its inception in March 2002. While our initial work focused on HIV prevention and education, the organisation shifted focus to supporting treatment initiation and adherence. In 2013, HIVSA began specifically focusing on interventions aimed at reducing HIV infections amongst Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) with the launch of its online magazine, Choma.
A magazine that focuses on love and relationships; sex and pregnancy; health; fashion and beauty and inspiration. With the added “Ask Choma” feature, girls and young women utilising the platform have access to accurate and factual information and have the opportunity to discuss their challenges with their online “Choma.” Through the 24/7 accessible platform, we reach over 30 000 AGYW a month.
In the ensuing years, it became evident that the HIV prevalence amongst AGYW was disproportionately highly and girls and young women were eight times more likely to get infected with HIV than their male counterparts. Despite the number of HIV prevention activities and referrals for Sexual and Reproductive Health services, it was clear that many AGYW were placing themselves in risky situations due to limited financial resources. This often resulted in AGYW being unable to negotiate safe sex practices or to get out of abusive and age-disparate relationships. Understanding this need, HIVSA began incorporating economic strengthening interventions in its basket of services available to AGYW. These included financial capability training, entrepreneurship, employability and supporting AGYW access to tertiary education. The obvious next step was to assist AGYW in finding employment that would immediately translate into them having access to their own income whilst gaining on-the-job training.
In 2020, HIVSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with YES4Youth with the aim of having its existing or graduated beneficiaries placed at HIVSAs implementation sites through sponsorships received from corporates. On the 1st July 2021, HIVSA placed its first cohort of 11 female youth in its finance, digital media, monitoring and evaluation and programme departments. We will be hosting an additional 11 youth from the 1st October 2021.
Through these placements, AGYW will gain an array of skills ranging from research, data capturing, administration, and group facilitation in the world of work that will position them well for their future career aspirations and reduce their dependency on others for financial support.
One of our youth, Mmakgotso Thejane, currently placed in the finance department shares her story
"My experience as a YES Youth at HIVSA has been very enjoyable and interesting because I get to learn new skills. The people I work with are willing to help in any way without hesitation and in that way, it is easier for me to find my way around my work. My supervisor has also been great, and I enjoy working with him. My message to unemployed youth in South Africa is to believe in their dreams; dream big”.
Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) often find that they need support to empower them to take ownership of their own Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), this is due to lack of information and fear of stigma from their communities and sometimes, even their own families.
This was the case with Naledi Yika; a 15-year-old adolescent girl from Finetown, South of Johannesburg. She lives in a government-subsidised house with her unemployed mother – a single parent - depending on the South African Governments child support grant and income through rent from tenants in their yard. Naledi was introduced to Zenzele Counselling Project by a friend from school.
Zenzele Counselling Project is a Community-Based Organization based in Finetown. In partnership with HIVSA and the Department of Social Development, the organization provides various services such as daily meals, homework assistance, HIV education programs, health referrals and support.
These services fall under the four PHVP (Preventing HIV/AIDS in Vulnerable Populations) pillars which aim to see that all beneficiaries are healthy, schooled, stable and safe. Under the health pillar, Naledi was tested for HIV and was found to be negative. She is currently a Grade 9 learner at Willowmead High School, and she receives educational support from the organization.
As part of the HIVSA partnership, Zenzele Counselling Project received a Choma Innovations café in 2016. The Choma Innovations Café (referred to as café) is a shipping container refurbished with internet-connected chrome books and decorated in a funky pink style. The Café provides a safe space for AGYW to access information on HIV, SRH, love and relationships, and other health-related information. A female mentor (Choma Champion) actively host sessions on health-related topics in the café and the use of the internet helps AGYW to have the most up to date information. Currently, the organization has a total of 3 515 beneficiaries, of which 1 987 are AGYW and 465 are children and adolescents living with HIV.
Naledi being the only child, had no one to talk to about the challenges she faces as a teenager. She was unable to talk to her mother whom she perceived to be very strict. Whilst sharing her challenges with a friend at school, her friend who is a PHVP beneficiary invited her for sessions in the Choma Innovation Café. Naledi found the sessions informative and she grew interested in the topics discussed. She was later enrolled on the PHVP program.
After a session on ‘Know your Status’ Naledi approached one of the Choma Champions and disclosed that she is sexually active and she is afraid that she might contract HIV. The Choma Champion encouraged her to use condoms and invited her to attend a community engagement meeting at the organisation where Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) would be one of the topics for the day.
Naledi and her mother attended the community engagement meeting as part of the community. Having heard about PrEP, the mother privately told the Choma Champion that she suspects Naledi might be sexually active and would appreciate it if the Choma Champion would encourage Naledi to take PrEP. Meanwhile, Naledi had actually voluntarily requested to be initiated on PrEP. It was then arranged that Naledi would be initiated on PrEP during school holidays as she was not available to go to the health facility during school days.
And then South Africa was faced with COVID19 and ordered to go into Lockdown. As an essential service, the Choma Champions continued to support AGYW during this difficult period using telephone case management providing girls with adherence support, SRH and COVID19 information. Naledi was one of them and through discussions, Naledi and her mother requested that Naledi still access PrEP.
The Choma Champion arranged with the facility and she was successfully initiated onto PrEP. When asked about how she feels about PrEP Naledi said,
"PrEP can help change the future of a girl child."
During a follow-up phone call with the Choma Champion, Naledi further requested contraceptives as she do not want to fall pregnant. The Choma Champion accompanied her to Stredford Clinic where she was successfully linked to contraceptives.