Youth Support Groups
Every Sunday, young patients from WE-ACTx’s Centreville clinic gather together for a day of peer-led support groups, community-building games, yoga, and a healthy snack.
Under the supervision of WE-ACTx’s Youth Program Director, our twenty Peer Parents facilitate group conversations for youth ages 12-20— focusing on overcoming the challenges of adherence to HIV medication. These “family groups,” which are stratified according to age and gender, create a consistent safe space for teens to discuss personal issues related to living with HIV and their overall well-being. The support groups are followed by peer-led yoga classes that give youth the opportunity to release physical and emotional tension, build strength, and enjoy each other’s company.
For patients under 12, the Peer Parents facilitate an afternoon of community-building games, music-making, yoga and other sports. We believe that helping our youngest patients have spaces to create, to play, and to connect with each other is integral to helping them sustain the highest possible level of physical and mental health as they continue to grow.
At the Nyacyonga Health Center, youth of all ages come together every Saturday for a morning of traditional dance, music-making, and community games. Following the full-group activities, our Nyacyonga Peer Parents facilitate discussion groups for older youth, while younger children play and enjoy a snack.
Youth Clinic Day
As part of our commitment to tailoring our services to meet patient-identified needs, WE-ACTx strives to foster an open dialogue with our young patients about we can best serve them. In response to a request from our youth community in 2011, health care providers at the Centreville clinic designated Wednesdays as “Youth Clinic Day”—which allows pediatric and adolescent patients to seek comprehensive care in the comfort of a youth-only environment. WE-ACTx kids and teens now have the opportunity to connect with friends from our summer camp and year-round support programs, attend mini-seminars about self-care, and peruse our colorful children’s library before and after their appointments.
WE-ACTx Summer Youth Program
Every summer, WE-ACTx’s Peer Parents team up with our partners at Musicians without Borders, a group of students from Chicago’s Latin High School, and an array of local and international teaching artists to run an arts-based summer program for the pre-teen patients of our two local clinics. Activities such as theater, music, traditional dance, painting, yoga and soccer give youth crucial opportunities to express themselves, and to form long-term friendships. Over the course of the 3-week program, WE-ACTx’s young patients create an original performance piece, drawn from their shared experiences and imaginations, which they present to friends and family at our big end-of-summer celebration. The program’s aim is to improve campers’ abilities to share their feelings and ideas, to increase their comfort level in seeking care from WE-ACTx’s integrated services, and to strengthen the supportive relationships that WE-ACTx’s young patients have built with the Peer Parents and each other.
DISCLOURE SUPPORT GROUPS
Rwandan law requires that all children born with HIV be informed of their status by age 12. As part of our efforts to support the parents and caregivers of our pediatric patients, WE-ACTx counselors facilitate a weekly discussion group to help families navigate the challenges of disclosing this information to their children. Our support group creates a space for parents to talk through different strategies for sharing this difficult news, and
to seek help in working through the tension that disclosure can introduce into family relationships. Since we began the group in 2011, the percentage of WE-ACTx youth ages 8-12 who are aware of their status has risen from 50% to >90%. It is our hope that by fostering an ongoing conversation among caregivers, and connecting them with individual counseling as needed, we can nurture a community of young people who are well-informed about their own health, and can take an active role in their self-care.
QUARTERLY PARENT MEETINGS
Quarterly meetings are held for parents of children over 12 to support them in helping their children adhere better to medications. These gatherings allow caregivers to become familiar with the WE-ACTx staff, as well as with opportunities for family-centered activities to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
Annual Children’s Assessments
WE-ACTx’s team of nurses and psychologists conduct annual individual needs assessments for all patients under 17 years of age. These one-on-one evaluations allow the clinic’s staff to identify problems that young patients are facing related to poverty, stigma, family issues, gender-based violence, educational issues, and the challenges of grappling with their HIV status. Our counselors include detailed notes from these conversations in patients’ medical charts, thereby enabling clinicians to make informed referrals, track change over time, and approach each child’s care from a holistic perspective.
Day of the African Child
Day of the African Child is observed every year on June 16th, throughout the African continent—in commemoration of the 1976 Soweto uprising, when 10,000 black schoolchildren risked their lives to demand better education and the right to be taught in their own language in South Africa.
At WE-ACTx, we honor this day by hosting an outdoor gathering for the families of the 600 youth we serve. Our annual event features an academic awards ceremony, as well as music, theater and dance performances by WE-ACTx youth and invited local artists.
Day of the African Child is the time of year we come together to celebrate the way that the young folks in our care are thriving—and to recognize all of the hard work, cooperation and love that has contributed to supporting their well-being.
Youth Ending Stigma (Y.E.S.)
Youth Ending Stigma (Y.E.S.) is a youth group committed to ending HIV-related stigma in Rwanda that was started by WE-ACTx patients in the fall of 2009. The members of Y.E.S. meet regularly at the Centreville clinic to support each other in their own struggles against stigma, and to collaborate on peer education projects and public awareness campaigns that challenge stereotypes and promote equality. In addition to sharing their own testimonies with other HIV-positive youth and with the general public, the members of Y.E.S. have spread their message by staging plays, composing original music, participating in photography exhibitions, and creating a video that has been named a finalist for the $25,000 Kalamazoo College Global Prize for Collaborative Social Justice Leadership.