Our goal is to help adolescents become stronger

For several years, International Charitable Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine), a partner of AFEW International in Ukraine, has been successfully implementing programs aimed at working with adolescents who use psychoactive substances. This activity results in hundreds of strong and self-confident adolescents who change their lives and lives of people around them for the better.

Anastasia Shebardina, AFEW-Ukraine Senior Project Manager, told AFEW International how it all began and how her organization managed to mobilize the community of adolescents who use drugs through Bridging the Gaps program.

Why does Ukraine pay particular attention to working with youth?

Back in 2012, when Bridging the Gaps (BtG) program just started in Ukraine, we understood that most of the projects in our country are aimed at working with adult drug users. There was nothing like this for young people, and this is why we focused our work on adolescents who use psychoactive substances.

What is the peculiarity of your approach to working with youth?

Our work can be divided into 3 different directions. The first one is the so-called low-threshold services, when an adolescent can apply for a particular service one or more times through the project. For example, he/she can be tested for HIV, get contacts of organizations where he/she can get help. As a rule, such an adolescent is not ready for systematic work and drastic changes. The second direction is working with adolescents who come with a specific request for help, requiring a comprehensive solution. For example, often these young people may have problems in educational institutions, difficulties with documents etc. We invite an adolescent to join a case management program in one of the youth friendly centers. In total, there are 4 such centers under the BtG program in Ukraine. They are located in Kropyvnytskyi, Poltava, Kharkiv and Chernivtsi. Case management in these centers is designed for a period of 3 to 6 months. But if youngsters have a need to get help longer, we extend the program for a longer period.

The third area is rehabilitation programs for adolescents who are willing to change and want to reduce or completely stop drug use. One of such programs has already been working in Chernivtsi for a long time; it is designed for six months. This is a structured program, within which an adolescent gets several obligations – he/she needs to come to the center regularly, participate in group events, and so on. Recently, we started a similar rehabilitation program in Kharkiv.

What difficulties did you encounter at the start?

At first, we were not sure whether public organizations in Ukraine would be able to work with youth without having official permissions from parents and governmental bodies. However, having analyzed Ukrainian legislation, we realized that it didn’t have a clear regulation on how to work with adolescents or any kinds of restrictions.

There were also difficulties of a different nature: firstly, since young people rarely use injecting drugs, they almost never turn to harm reduction programs for services, so accessing this group was complicated. As for rehabilitation programs, they also could not reach young people, as they are primarily designed to work with adult drug users and do not take into account the peculiarities of working with adolescents. Participation of adolescents in such rehabilitation programs could do more harm than good.

At first, it was hard, because public organizations had mainly worked with adult drug users and needed to learn the peculiarities of working with adolescents from scratch.

However, the biggest difficulty was working with parents. The fact is that most often an adolescent who has problems in life and who practices risky behavior, does not have good contact with the parents. Therefore, it was difficult to expect that adults would behave actively and participate in our activities when a complicated situation arose. Some are very busy, some just don’t want to come to the centers, some believe that parents should not help children solve their problems with risky behavior, and this is the job of state institutions. They simply do not understand that in many cases it is working with parents that really helps to correct the situation.

What has changed over 8 years in the field of working with youth?

Young people got noticed – this is the main change! People making youth-related decisions locally have become more loyal to them, more open to dialogue. Programs to counteract the spread of drugs and prevent HIV that are being developed at the local regional level have started targeting adolescents as a separate group. The attitude of specialists towards youth is gradually changing, they began to understand how important it is to have special programs for the younger generation. For instance, we began to receive much more requests from other organizations. Educational institutions and services that work actively with adolescents redirect to us those who have problems with the use of psychoactive substances.

What is the goal of our activity?

Our goal is to help teens reach their goals. Of course, we would like adolescents to change their behavior to a safer one so that they stop using psychoactive substances. But it’s important to understand what adolescents come with initially. Most often they come with a question that is not directly related to drug use. And our experience shows that when these issues are resolved, they also change their behavior in relation to the use of psychoactive substances. Various unresolved situations in life lead to risky behavior: self-doubt, conflicts, difficulties, somatic diseases, failures. Therefore, in relation to young people it is so important to work with the problem as a whole. Also, you need to work with what is important for adolescents, and not what we, adults, think would be better for them. Any social programs should work that way. The more tools we give people to deal with difficulties, the easier it is for them to change the situation in other areas of life. We give an adolescent the resources to become stronger. But of course, we also educate young people about overdoses, safe sex and drug use.

You have a special program for working with youth leaders. What is it like?

A few years ago, it seemed to us that adolescents were not very interested in public activities. It was difficult for us to find an active adolescent who publicly talked about his/her problems and problems of the social group. Therefore, we started to actively explore various opportunities for attracting youth. Thus, we began to search for our most active clients, trained them, and involved in the organization of events. In 2018, we gave them an opportunity to create their own projects and started to issue grants for leadership initiatives. We were telling the participants how to create projects, set indicators, implement activities and write reports. In the end, we invited them to create their own small projects, where they will do everything from beginning to end by themselves – write a plan, report, implement. The first year was difficult, but since last year we noticed that this direction has become the most effective in our work on mobilizing community and attracting leaders. The bottom line is that when you give adolescents the opportunity to be responsible for something, when they feel that this is their own project, then they change a lot.

Which projects in the leaders’ program were most remarkable?

All projects are interesting in their own way. Personally, I really noted an online magazine in Chernivtsi. It was called “This magazine is as good as the son of mother’s friend”. It contained articles on completely different topics, the youngsters interviewed representatives of the police, doctors, etc. Adolescents were reading this magazine, commenting online. Many of them, having read the articles in the magazine, would come to our program.

There was also an interesting project on creation of a cinema club. Adolescents selected films by themselves, organized shows, handed out tickets. One could only enter the club by completing a special task. This gaming element was especially attractive for young people.

I should say that before this project, many adolescents came to us with a certain caution, because they were usually brought by parents or the police. After the leaders’ project, we noticed that it was the leaders who became the first contact point for such adolescents. Thus, the leaders were peer consultants. Since 2018, we have supported 9 projects like that. In 2020 there will be a continuation of the project.

How exactly do teenagers change during their participation in such projects?

When we conducted a focus group with leaders, we heard that thanks to the project, someone changed their relationship with parents, it became easier for someone to express their point of view, to analyze problems without quarrels. Someone said that he plans to continue studying professions, some saw that projects can really help, some stopped spending all their free time on the street. The youngsters really changed for the better.

I remember that one of the participants even started working as a social worker in another organization. This is a very significant indicator, because it means that he evaluated social activities in such a way that he himself wanted to do it. He saw the value of helping others, changing lives. I also noticed that adolescents are pleased to conduct various trainings and seminars on their own, they feel they are the owners of unique knowledge and are proud of it. In schools, they are no longer afraid to go to the blackboard. Teachers sometimes ask us what we did with an adolescent that resulted in him starting to raise his hand in class. We just developed his self-confidence.

In September you plan to host the MARA Youth Conference. What is special about this event?

The MARA 2020 Conference – Most-At-Risk Adolescents – will be the second. We conducted the first one in 2015 at the end of the first phase of Bridging the Gaps project. This is a conference on the well-being and health of adolescents. It is not limited to any key groups, but it is important to note that this is the only conference in Ukraine that focuses on the adolescents at risk. We have created a working group of representatives from various organizations, and together we choose which topics are interesting for discussion, who should be invited as speakers. Last time the conference was opened by adolescents themselves – in order to do that, they had gone through a training in public speaking beforehand. This year we will strengthen this component: the conference will have a separate section where adolescents will participate on equal terms with adult specialists.

#StaySafe with Teenergizer

Teenergizer, a movement that has united teenagers from the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, launched the #StaySafe online campaign aimed at teens and young people from EECA countries to help them feel strong and protected during the unstable time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Teenergizer engages stars to promote key campaign ideas about the importance of following quarantine rules during an epidemic. For more about free online consultations, see the video from Teenergizer family!

Discover your health!

In 2019 the world famous youth program Dance4Life came to Kyrgyzstan. This means that young people in the republic will now be more informed about reproductive health and healthy sexual behaviour.

One of the Dance4Life champions in Kyrgyzstan, Temirlan Irysbekov (20 y.o.), told AFEW International what this project means for him and shared interesting observations from his practice of working with adolescents.

How did you come to the Dance4Life project?

My coordinator in social organization “Red Crescent” told me about this project and offered to apply. I liked the idea because such areas as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), surfactants and HIV/AIDS are very important for society. I always wanted to help people by volunteering, conducting trainings in schools and universities, and I liked it.

What do you do for a living?

I am a part-time student at Bishkek State University, freelance programming for companies from the West. Now I work as a barista in Beeline’s office and also do an internship there as a programmer. And for the last four years, I have also been a volunteer at the “Red Crescent” in Kyrgyzstan.

What does it mean for you to be a leader, a champion of Dance4life?

In my understanding, a leader is a person who is listened to by other people, who can deliver any information beautifully and competently. At the same time, to be the Dance4life Champion is a great pride. To be the Dance4life Champion means to share information with people. This project has given me self-confidence, a motivation that drives me to help people. I can confidently support, motivate people around me.

Dance4life aims to work with young people to develop leadership and maintain reproductive health, prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections. How do you feel about these topics in your environment? Have you and your peers been enlightened on them in school?

My friends are not well informed about the SRH content, as teachers in schools and universities do not talk about it. They don’t even know how to use contraception or how HIV is transmitted. There was a situation when I heard from friends that HIV is transmitted through saliva. I gave them a little training where I told them how HIV is actually transmitted, gave them arguments to dispel all doubts, and shared with them information about contraception.

When I was a schoolboy myself, we had only one class hour dedicated to SRH in all years. When the Red Crescent volunteers started telling us about men and women health, many became shy, turn away, and even cried. Over time, when I shared with people that it is okay to know about your health and we need to know that to protect ourselves, their points of view changed and they became interested and now they can share this knowledge with others.

Why is it important, in your opinion, to be enlightened on these topics?

During my work with various projects, I have repeatedly encountered horrific stories that could have been warned if people knew more about their health and how to keep it. At one of the medical institutions during the training we were told the story of a girl who was playing with her brother’s clothes and decided to try on his pants. At this time she noticed blood – that was a day when her first period started. At that moment, she thought she was pregnant and decided to commit suicide.

What do you remember most about Dance4Life?

At Dance4life we become not just coaches for the guys, but friends that they can trust.

One day, a guy from our team shared his problem with me: he didn’t know how to deal with alcohol addiction. He told his parents he needed money to eat or for smth else, but he actually went to the nearest store and bought himself a beer. It had been going on for a while and he didn’t know how to stop. I redirected him to a youth center with qualified psychologists. At first, I wanted to accompany him, but I realized that he should be willing to do it himself. He made me a promise to come there.

 

Mariias Frolova: “The Most Important Thing is Working Together”

Author: Olya Kulyk, ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine)

Last year, AFEW-Ukraine gathered young activists of the project “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” from four cities of Ukraine in a Summer Camp. One of the goals was to teach teenagers to design projects and prepare their own applications for funding. The projects created during the camp later were sent to AFEW-Ukraine’s competition of small grants.

18-year-old Mariias Frolova is a leader of the youth community centre “Compass” from the Community Organisation “Kharkiv charitable fund “Blago”. “Compass” is a centre for adolescents who use drugs. AFEW-Ukraine supports four of such centres in Ukraine. Mariias is telling about the projects of her team.

Mariias, please tell us why did you decide to create the projects for youth?

– I decided to develop projects for youth when I participated in the camp for project leaders of Bridging the Gaps project. After training, I thought that I could do something useful for myself or for other young people.

In “Compass” we often get together, play and discuss things. Our team got the idea of ​​watching films together and discussing them later. Initially, we wanted to choose educational films – about diseases, human rights and so on, so that we learn more. Then as a bonus, we added fiction films. We needed some extra equipment – a beamer, screen, and speakers.

AFEW-Ukraine supported the purchase of this equipment.

Our second project is called “QR code”. The project helps adolescents to learn more about their rights. One day our friend asked: “What would I do if I did not know about “Compass?” This made us think that not everyone knows about the centre and how cool it is, as this is the place for the adolescents to get help. We needed to inform adolescents that they can come to “Compass” while facing different situations in their lives. Now QR codes are popular. Through scanning them, you can get access to different information, so we decided to use them for informing youth about their rights and inviting them to the centre.

Who is the target audience for your projects and how do you inform about them?

– We locate our QR codes in schools and lyceums of Kharkiv. By scanning the QR code (there are six of them), adolescents are directed to the information about “Compass”, information about HIV, reproductive health, psychoactive substances and police. After reading the information, teenagers are offered to answer online questions on these topics. After passing the quest with six different topics and completing the task, participants receive an invitation to “Compass” and get a ticket to our cinema.

 Target group of the projects is youth of 14-19 years old, usually from not very rich families, often having limited access to leisure activities. Therefore, free movie screening is very attractive for them.

What are your achievements in projects implementations?

– Since October, we had 13 film screenings with 105 participants, followed by interesting in-depth discussions. 

Due to QR codes project, more people began to visit “Compass”. 64 people received invitations to come to the centre and the cinema. Some visitors to our cinema stay here for services… Since November last year, we received more than 260 answers to our online questionnaires.

QR codes and movie screening stimulate youth to learn more about HIV, drug use, reproductive health issues. Those who come to watch the movie, are also involved in discussions about safer behaviours. Social workers from the centre are invited for facilitating discussions and can immediately respond to any question or provide individual or group counselling if needed.

How did you benefit from creating and implementing projects?

– It was a great experience. After the projects I mentioned above, we developed a new one, submitted it to one big organization and won a grant that will allow us to have a gym in our centre.

I am confident that the most important thing is to work together. We can have different opinions, which can sometimes create problems, but instead of arguing we have to decide on everything together.

Most-at-Risk Adolescents Report Human Rights Violations in Ukraine

Ukraine has a high HIV prevalence with an estimated number of 240,000 people living with HIV in 2017. Most-at-risk adolescents (MARA) are among the most vulnerable groups of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. The estimated total number of MARA is 129,000 people (10-19 years old), of which 21,700 are people who inject drugs. There are yet no official statistics on the exact number of MARA, including underage people who use drugs. In Ukraine, MARA represent a very closed group. Lack of statistical data, stigma, discrimination and legal barriers make their access to HIV/Sexual Transmittable Infection (STI) services more complicated contributing to increased risks of HIV. Since 2012, AIDS Foundation East-West in Ukraine (AFEWUkraine) has an established system of services for young people who use drugs in the framework of the Bridging the Gaps programme. Social bureaus, rehabilitation centres and day-care centres in four cities are currently opened providing 21,290 services to 1,215 adolescents in Ukraine.

Experience shows that young people who use drugs are confronted with various types of violations of their rights, which are often not officially registered and publicly known. The fact that young people face stigma and discrimination forms a barrier for asking for help from health specialists. Adolescents are publicly humiliated by teachers, priests and even their parents because of the fact that they use drugs. There is also a lack of appropriate mechanisms for response and misunderstanding young drug users have about their own rights. In Chernivtsi, for instance, one of the problems is the lack of an effective mechanism for responding to suicide attempts among adolescents, especially if these attempts are related to the use of drugs. Therefore, young people who use drugs often do not report human rights violation or apply for protection. Social workers and psychologists do not feel they have relevant knowledge and tools to respond to violations.

Therefore, in 2016 AFEW-Ukraine created an instrument for monitoring human rights violations among young people who use drugs. This instrument was developed for any specialist providing help to young people who use drugs. It can be used by a wide range of organisations and specialists with some basic knowledge about human rights who worked with vulnerable children, adolescents and youth. Based on the outcomes of the monitor tool, the scale of the problem became apparent and advocacy actions on the national and local level can be adjusted. From 2017 onwards, in four Ukrainian cities – Chernivtsi, Kharkiv, Kropyvnytsky, Poltava – AFEW-Ukraine organised introductory trainings that helped specialists gain experience on how to use the tool.

“A social worker or any other professional working with people who live with HIV can defend their rights. This does not require special legal education. Specialists often do not understand that the problems faced by their clients is, in fact, the case of human rights violations that needs special attention,” says Anastasiya Shebardina, Senior Project Manager AFEW-Ukraine.

Over 100 specialists were trained on how to use the tool. Social workers, lawyers, teachers and psychologists of NGOs, representatives of the patrol police, the probation service, youth prevention services for children, social services, local departments of education and medical facilities from the referral network were among those specialists. They had the opportunity to analyse specific cases of violations of the rights of minors and in cooperation with trainers developed an action plan within each city. The tool consists of a questionnaire which is filled in on paper together with an adolescent. Based on the answers in the questionnaire, one can get an idea about the life of the adolescent. In the case of violation, adolescents are matched to a lawyer for legal assistance. An online form for registering human rights violations is filled out by social workers. This form allows to collect statistical data on the rights violations and, if necessary, a follow-up with counselling assistance. A wider range of participants who wished to learn more about the monitoring tool could do it during the educational webinar.

The tool demonstrates that documenting cases of human rights violations help service providers to recognize them and provide timely response better. The analysis of the documented cases allows to identify typical situations for each separate region or city and make advocacy actions more effective. NGOs have also established closer personal contacts with representatives of governmental agencies such as police and probation. Now they plan and implement joint activities. For more systematic future response, the instrument learns what need legal specialists and human rights organizations have to be involved in referral networks. In the long run, this instrument can become a national mechanism for civil society on improving service delivery and upholding human rights.

AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Opened a Youth Centre in Bishkek

Author: Grana Ziia, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

On March 19, the ground floor of the Palace of Sports in Bishkek was crowded: teenagers, civil servants, representatives of the city hall and non-governmental organisations, social workers of district administrations and AFEW-Kyrgyzstan team all gathered together for the opening ceremony of a new youth centre.

In the spacious hall, decorated with felt paintings and bright red wallpapers, the Deputy Director of the State Agency for Youth Affairs, Physical Culture and Sports Mirlan Parkhanov welcomes all the guests. He says that this centre was opened last year to organise events and conferences for young people.

– Now, with the support of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan, a teenage centre is opened here. A psychologist and a social worker are now working here. They will organise free counselling for adolescents and their parents, organise useful leisure activities for young people, those who wish can join sport clubs and do other extracurricular activities, – Mr. Parkhanov is saying and inviting all guests for a tour around the centre.

The most important thing is to have trust from children

Guests are entering the interactive room. Judging by the interest with which they take pictures there, they like this room very much. Inside there is a dozen of bright fashionable beanbags, a shelf with board games and brochures about health, family planning, and drug use prevention. On the walls, there are posters with the rules of the centre and announcements of various competitions and grants for young people. There is a computer, a projector and a big screen for teenagers in the corner of the room.

Another room is a room for the staff of the centre and individual consultations of adolescents with a psychologist, social workers and other specialists. It is cosy here. There are also felt paintings and framed carpet, cookies on the table, and a few pillows on the sofa.

– We tried to create the most relaxed atmosphere here so that the children can trust us. I hope it worked out! – says the psychologist of the centre Margarita.

A place for useful leisure and development

After the tour, the guests gather in the conference room again. AFEW-Kyrgyzstan manager Chinara Imankulova begins the presentation of the services of the youth centre and talks about the idea of opening the centre.

– Last year, with the support of the Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP), AFEW-Kyrgyzstan conducted a study on the prevalence of psychoactive substances usage among adolescents in Kyrgyzstan. The data obtained showed that it was time to begin working on prevention. Thus, this centre appeared. We want all teenagers to come here, and not just those who use psychoactive substances or are in a difficult life situation. Here, teenagers will have a safe space to relax, to talk to their peers and get professional support, – says Chinara.

The psychologist and social worker of the centre add that this form of work with adolescents is the most effective. When children come from different groups, they communicate with each other, share interests and help each other. Therefore, no one feels deprived and lonely.

Joined efforts are needed

In her presentation, Chinara is saying that the centre will also function to increase the capacity of psychologists, social workers and pedagogues, doctors and juvenile inspectors. Guests perceive the news with enthusiasm, because, according to them, there is a need for constant professional growth.

The guests of the event are also saying that Bishkek needs such a centre for a long time. They also talk about the problems they face in their practice. After the discussion, they develop a plan of cooperation with the centre: how to guide children, how to interest them, how to organise training sessions.

Employees of professional lyceums are saying that they are ready to hold master classes for teenagers; representatives of the city hall promise to help with the transportation for outdoor events; the department of physical culture and sports is ready to engage teenagers from the centre in free sports activities. After all, only with joined efforts, we can build a healthy future.

Svetlana Izambaeva: “Uncovering the Topic of HIV, We Talk About Violence and Bullying”

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

Svetlana Izambaeva was one of the first women living with HIV in Russia who was brave enough to open her face. Now Svetlana supports other people living with HIV. In summer 2018, Svetlana Izambaeva’s Non-Profit Charitable Foundation held a gathering of adolescents living with HIV with the financial support of AFEW International and other donors. We talked with Svetlana to ask her what was interesting about this gathering in Georgia and why, when we talk about HIV, we also “uncover” other topics.

– Svetlana, could you please tell us how the idea of having a summer gathering was born? Who was able to take part in it?

– It started with our desire to support adolescents living with HIV in Kazan. Later those boys and girls, who had been participating in such meetings for five years, offered to hold a meeting with adolescents from other cities and countries. Several adolescents from Kazan dreamt about going to the seaside. Thus, those adolescents’ dream gave birth to our project #vseprosto (#itseasy). Before, we held one- or three-day workshops in the cities of Tatarstan, Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, and Irkutsk.

We made a decision on the venue and started sharing information about the event through social media and AIDS centres. The response was immediate. We heard both from mothers of children living with HIV and from adolescents living with HIV. Every person who wanted to attend our event had to fill in a questionnaire based on which we selected the participants. An important eligibility criterion was the awareness of adolescent of his or her HIV status. This year, the meeting in Georgia brought together adolescents aged 11 years old and above from six countries – Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan – and nine cities of Russia – Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Orenburg, Rostov, St. Petersburg, and Moscow.

– How was this gathering different from a traditional summer camp for children?

– Our gathering was more than a camp. We had full immersion into the topic of HIV, including all medical and psychological issues. Interactive games and quests help us to reinforce the theory. We raise the questions related to feelings, emotions, and experiences, explore guilt, resentment and pain, acceptance of diagnosis and empowerment. An important factor is that we offer many games on HIV – while playing, adolescents learn about the immune system and realize why they need to take pills strictly in accordance with their schedule. For some adolescents, this is the first time when they meet other boys and girls with HIV. At the gathering, we openly talk about HIV for ten days, which allows “recognizing” and accepting one’s diagnosis.

– What was your biggest insight during this gathering? Where there any good or maybe bad surprises for you?

– Each gathering has its own story and each one of them is special. Every time, we sit down with the team of trainers and prepare new exercises and new quest games for the adolescents. What is surprising is the depth of feelings and the extent of trust and openness among the adolescents living with HIV. They are all ready to work on their problems but not all of them are willing to do it in a group. From the very first day, we offer individual sessions with psychologists. Besides, one of the insights was that when we uncover the topic of HIV, we bring up deeper topics, such as violence, bullying, and reliance on parents. Parents or guardians may be a negative factor. There was a case when the guardian was not ready to work together all day long and also in the evening. We pay a lot of attention to building knowledge, but information is presented in the format of games and our participants have fun. Though it is just a five-minute walk to the seaside, our priority is keeping up with our agenda and the knowledge to be gained by the adolescents and their parents or guardians.

– What challenges did you encounter when planning the event and how did you cope with them?

– The main challenge was raising funds. We needed money to cover accommodation and meals for the participants, pay the trainers (though three times we did not pay either to trainers or to the logistics provider), to buy stationery, gifts, T-shirts and caps. It was important to have at least five trainers for 30 participants as we had both general activities and small group sessions. We had to find sponsors to cover our costs, and it was not easy. Besides, at our gathering we started training people who would like to conduct similar activities in their regions.

– Why is this event important? Have you achieved the goals that you wanted to achieve?

– This event is important for every adolescent – that is what they say in their comments and follow-up questionnaires. The changes happening with every boy and girl may be tracked through the diagnostic drawings that they do in the first and last days of the event. On the first day, when they are asked what they feel, think and want to do when they hear the word “HIV”, they draw scary images and write “pain, guilt, fear, do not want to talk about it.” On the last day, when answering the same question, they depict strength, confidence, freedom, easiness and desire to support their peers. The event is also important because after it they will not stop taking their therapy and will adhere to treatment. We already see the results of their blood assays. Our event is also aimed at the prevention of suicide attempts and depression.

Do you plan arranging similar events in future?

– We have already organized and held four gatherings: in 2017 – in Sochi and St. Petersburg, in 2018 – in Ureki (Georgia) and Vladivostok (Russia). We have piloted the programme, trained the trainers and we plan to launch such gatherings in Russia and open centres for adolescents in Irkutsk, Kazan, and Krasnodar region. Next year, we plan to conduct first-level training for new participants in each of the territorial units, hold a gathering in Irkutsk at the Baikal Lake and then – an international event in Armenia. Besides, we would like to hold a meeting and workshop in Moscow suburbs for a team of leaders from all our gatherings.

‘Bridging the Gaps’ through the eyes of teenagers

In 2011-2017, over eight thousand clients received 70,232 medical, psychological, social and legal services within ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations’ project in Ukraine. Halyna, Artem and Carl (names changed) were also clients of ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations’ project.

Resolving problems with the family

Halyna is 19 years old. She is a slim girl with beautiful eyes and a charming smile. Halyna was born in a small Ukrainian town bordering with Moldova. She has been living with a man she loves for a year. A month ago, they got married.

However, just two years ago, Halyna’s life was neither easy nor happy. Back then, she lived with her mother and stepfather and was a constant victim of abuse. Halyna’s stepfather did not want the girl to live with them, so was turning his wife against her own daughter. Halyna, who was still a minor, had to leave her home, find a job and make her own living. The girl started using drugs – first marijuana, then amphetamine, sometimes ecstasy or LSD. It lasted for a few months.

Once, when the girl told her mother everything. Talking about that period of her life, Halyna cannot hold her tears back.

“When I came back home, I was not quite adequate and had hysterics. Once, my stepfather called police and they took me away. They sent me to a juvenile shelter in Chernivtsi. I spent two months there. At first, it was difficult, and I wanted out of there as soon as possible, but when I went back home to my family, it was even worse. My stepfather abused me and made my mother do the same,” tells the girl.

The psychologist working in the shelter referred Halyna to the Dialogue Centre of Social and Psychological Support (New Family Foundation), implementing ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations’ project. Three times a week, Halyna attended counselling sessions with a psychologist and a social worker there. Besides, the girl, her mother and stepfather took part in family group conferences. The approach of family group conferences stipulates that a child may not be viewed separately from the family, so family members should be involved in solving child’s problems. Halyna says that it helped to maintain relations in her family for a while.

“Later, as my legal age was approaching, my mother and stepfather said that they did not want me to live with them. Our problems resumed, and I went back to drugs. After I turned 18, I had to move out,” tells the girl.

Despite the challenges, Halyna continued coming to the Centre for support and soon was able to quit drugs. She attended the Centre for about eight months. The girl says that for her, the Centre was a safe place and people working there helped her a lot. Halyna thinks that it is quite possible that if not for this support, she would still be using drugs.

Coming home for Mom’s birthday

Artem from Kropyvnytskyi is 22. He lives with his family – his parents, sister and grandmother. The young man says that he likes mountains, nature, rock-climbing and drugs.

When Artem was a teenager, he started taking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and then tried drugs for the first time. He confesses that he was not happy with his life and wanted to escape the reality, so he started “systematically” using drugs. Crystal meth, LSD, ecstasy and so on – he used everything except injecting drugs. It lasted for over four years.

Then his family intervened. Artem’s uncle suggested he should visit a psychologist from Lilia social bureau (NGO Return to Life). Psychologist’s counselling, awareness-raising classes, school of volunteers – all those things became part of the young man’s life.

However, just in several months he went back to drugs and had to start everything from scratch. Later, Artem spent three months in the rehabilitation centre run by the Return to Life NGO. He came back home last autumn, on his mother’s birthday.

“If it were not for this project and the social bureau, I would probably still be an active drug user. Maybe I would even end up in jail,” says Artem.

He became an active volunteer of the organization. Campaigns, workshops, summer school, working on his own project – all those things interest him and are an important part of his life. He has no desire to go back to drugs.

Drugs bring an illusion of the solution

Nineteen-year-old Carl is a second-year psychology student from the western region of Ukraine. He has parents and an older sister. Carl enjoys learning new things and likes history, especially military history. A year ago, he experienced some problems and his friends offered him a “way out” – together with them, he started using drugs.

“At first, I liked it, it felt exciting. Then I realized that drugs only bring me new problems. I grew addicted to drugs, could not communicate with people in a normal way, it interfered with my studies. When I understood that it all turns out to be a problem, I came to the Centre,” says Carl.

He heard about the Dialogue Centre a year and a half ago. Project workers regularly come to student dormitories and tell young people about HIV, drugs, safe sex, test them for HIV and hepatitis, distribute condoms.

“I lost many friends and acquaintances. Sometimes even my fellow students rejected me and called me a drug addict. I am a human, so when the society turns its back on me, it is very painful,” he recalls.

In the Centre, there was a psychologist who worked with Carl for six months. Embarrassed, Carl tells that he opened up during those counselling sessions and even cried. He says that the psychologist helped him to keep his life from going to pieces. Besides, in the Centre he could eat a meal and spend his leisure time.

“I know for sure what would happen to me if not for this Centre and this project. There was a friend of mine in the dormitory, who had a “point of no return”: he switched to hard injecting drugs, was kicked out of the dormitory and then – out of the university. It is quite probable that it would be the same with me,” says Carl.

The problems, which led the young man to drug use, are still there, but he realized that drugs do not resolve them, only bringing an illusion of solution. He is sure that every person should understand it.

About the project

‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations’ is an international project, which was launched in Ukraine in 2011 and is aimed at protecting the human rights of drug users by changing social attitudes and government policies and improving the services they can access. The main activities are aimed at under-age drug users. Four partner organizations provide services to adolescents in four cities: Return to Life CF in Kropyvnytskyi, Public Health PRCF in Poltava, Blago CF in Kharkiv and New Family CF in Chernivtsi.

In Chernivtsi, there is a rehabilitation centre, while in other cities the services are provided through social bureaus and day care centres. The efforts are aimed at reducing the risks of drug use, re-establishing social connections and finding resources in the lives of adolescents to support them. The most important task for project workers is to make adolescents understand that in the centres they will be welcomed and will not be judged because of their drug habits.

Russia is Dancing for Life

Author: Anastasia Petrova, Russia

“Congratulations to “FOCUS-MEDIA” and dance4life for the victory in presidential grants competition!” This was the message Ekaterina Artemenko, the coordinator of projects in Moscow “FOCUS Media” foundation, got from her colleague around midnight on July 31. The happy news spread quickly and all danc4life project members knew about it the next day. The initiative was supported this year by the Presidential Grant Foundation.

Starting from 2006, non-commercial organizations in Russia are supported by the president. This was the first year of the presidential grant competition. For 10-year existence, the system of finance distribution was quite complicated: at first the head of the state approved the list of non-commercial organizations (NCO) – the receivers of grants with his decree, and then the NCOs were included into the finance distribution system. In 2017, the procedure was simplified: grant participants may apply online. There has appeared the unified operator – presidential grant foundation.

Coordination committee summed up the results of the first competition on 31 July, 2017. There were 970 NCOs-winners from 79 regions in the winner list, which is around 15% of all applications. There were 6,623 projects that participated in the competition. Three Russian NCOs, included in the register as “foreign agents,” are among presidential grants recipients. Operator has distributed grants with the total sum of 2.25 billion Russian Rubles within the first competition. The most financed project among the 12 grant departments was “Citizen Health Protection, Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle.”

Recognition of merit

Public Health and Social Development Foundation “FOCUS -MEDIA” celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “We are happy to have received this grant, but frankly, we are also a bit surprised,” the employees of the foundation are saying.

There is a lot of work ahead even after receiving the grant. Financing will allow to run the project dance4life in 14 Russian cities. It will also include a module on tobacco addiction prophylaxis and anti-tobacco campaigns. Besides, the project will include additional component in the form of helping teenagers and young people with HIV. They will be able to volunteer in the project and take part in all of the activities.

Dancing is a universal language

Dance4life project, which won the grant, is a unique international initiative. The initiative aims at promotion of healthy lifestyle among young people, preservation and promotion of reproductive health, HIV infection prevention and many more socially important diseases. More than two million people from 20 different countries have been a part of the programme over the years of its existence.

The project started in 2005 in Russia. It began after “FOCUS Media” Foundation director Evgenia Alekseeva met the Dutch creator of the project Ilco van der Linde. After this meeting, she decided to take this international initiative to Russia. “FOCUS Media” Foundation existed for seven years by that time, dealt with health protection and, in particular, with AIDS prophylaxis among youth. That is why the aim of the project (which includes the prophylaxis of socially important diseases, addiction formation and strengthening young people) coincided with the foundation’s activity.

Now dance4life is a project with 12-year-old history in Russia, and it runs in more than 14 regions. During the years of its activity, it managed to involve around 220,000 young people, who say that dance4life has changed their lives. The keys to the uniqueness of the project are youth culture, energy and creativity that help spread the information on preserving health and taking responsibility for one’s life. Dancing as a part of the project is a universal language, connecting dance4life participants from all over the world.

The results will be presented on AIDS 2018

There were some guests in the ““FOCUS -MEDIA” Foundation office a week before receiving the news about winning the grant. Yulia Koval-Molodtsova, a former project coordinator in Russia and now an associate in the main dance4life office in the Netherlands, came to Russia to talk about the new working models.

After running the same programme since 2005, the international dance4life team has been working on the analysis and improvement of the project methodology. While the old working model made an accent on youth education, the new programme aims at self-realization of society. Now the programme invites young people on a journey: from relationship with oneself, to the relationships with partners and society in general. The components of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections (STI) prophylaxis, issues of contraception and gender equality are now skillfully connected with such important for young people topics: self-knowledge, establishment of personal boundaries, and control of social stereotypes. The principles of work have not changed: to inspire, teach, involve and celebrate. Due to the “peer to peer” approach, young people become the driving force of the project.

New model of work will be approved during this year. The pilot project is running in two regions. In Nizhny Novgorod, where the project is successfully running from the start, they work in cooperation with local schools. The new contacts will be established from scratch in Kolomna, a city in Moscow region, where dance4life is just starting. The model of the project is universal and can be used for both learning and leisure purposes of young people.

Even though the project will be financed by the Presidential Foundation till the end of 2018, the managers of the project would like to sum up the first results of work by next summer. The results of work and experience in the area of HIV/AIDS among youth will be introduced on the International AIDS Conference in 2018. The focus of this conference will be on Eastern European and Central Asian countries.

Compass Centre in Kharkiv, Ukraine: when Policeman Becomes an Uncle

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Authors: Janine Wildschut, Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

“I come here often,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department of National Police of Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Andrii Stadnik is sitting by the table in the centre Compass of Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago. He is smiling and pointing at the table. “Look, here I even have my own cup to drink from…”

Andrii Stadnik started to work in police in 1998. He says he is very happy with his job now. In Compass he meets many children who are grateful for not being send to prison, and he likes to be able to help them. The regulars of the centre even call him uncle Andrii, and this shows very good relations between people in the Ukrainian culture.

18 years old Oleksandr (Sasha) is sitting in front of Andrii, at the same table. Sasha is one of the main characters in the film that was made about the centre Compass a few years ago. Once he was detained by Andrii Stadnik and stayed under police control for some time. Now, after the client management program at Compass, Olexandr is doing much better. He even found a job as a security guard. “Now I somehow feel as Andrii’s colleague,” Sasha smiles.

“The criminal juvenile cases decreased tremendously last years, due to the approach when juvenile police is collaborating with a youth centre that offers client management. These alternative supporting ways are more constructive and more effective,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department is telling us. “Previously there were 2000 cases per year, and now it is 362. The formulas of substances that circulate on the streets change so fast that young people can often not be prosecuted, but by giving youth an option and an alternative for other options, young people have less problems and also cause less problems for the society they live in.”

img_0036There are 492.000 children in the region in total. 897 families are under juvenile department control in Kharkiv region in Ukraine. The Juvenile Police checks these families, sees how they are doing, and if there are cases of child abuse, financial problems, and so on. Kharkiv Juvenile police is also inviting colleagues from other smaller cities or villages, and teaches them how to work with the Centre Compass. Through this cooperation they found out that young people from the region have difficulties with coming to the Centre since Kharkiv is too far for them. That is why now once a week a social worker of the Centre travels to the villages to counsel young people in need there.

Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago has a long history of working with key populations, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men having sex with men and street children. The organisation started to work with adolescents using drugs since 2012 within the framework of “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights of Key Populations” project, through ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine.) Bridging the Gaps project supported the opening of the centre Compass that specifically serves vulnerable adolescents and young people, focusing on youth using drugs. The centre offers psychological counseling services, medical help, testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C. It is a daycare facility with social workers, psychologists and medical workers. The centre is providing case management services to youth using drugs, and also works with youth in prisons, and vocational schools.