Serhiy, 31, drops by the office of the Network of People Living with HIV in Kryvyy Rih, Ukraine, bearing a broad smile and words of gratitude.
While no longer their client, he frequently visits the organization to thank them for the support and care he received.
Today, he came to share good news. He is employed full-time and earning money legally for the first time in his life. His personal life is on the mend as well: He is back with his girlfriend and talking regularly with his mother. He is happy and proud that people trust him again.
Life was not always this way for Serhiy. He started using alcohol and drugs early in life and served time in various prisons. Although he promised himself a fresh start each time he was released, he always went back to his old ways — old friends, drugs and incarceration.
While serving his fourth term in the Sofia Correctional Facility in Kryvyi Rih, he volunteered to care for sick inmates. There he was spotted by a social worker who offered him a new start through Pact's START program.
START works to reduce sexually transmitted infections among people returning to the community after incarceration. The program begins 60 days before an inmate is released and continues for three months afterward. The program provides counseling to help former inmates address challenges, including finding affordable housing and employment and dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Through the program, Serhiy took responsibility for managing his own health, changing his lifestyle and, most importantly, controlling his anger and actions.
“My attitude began to change right away," he says. "I'd never thought about planning my future and never had support from anybody. After a few successful steps with Pact, I felt my life slowly improving."
The START program is part of USAID’s RESPOND project, which is funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and implemented by Pact in partnership with FHI 360. RESPOND is designed to help reduce levels of HIV transmission among key populations and their sexual partners through sustainable, country-led programs that increase the quality of HIV/AIDS services. Launched in October 2013, the project has provided services to hundreds of inmates in four correctional facilities in Ukraine.