Putting South Africa’s youth first with an innovative campaign to reduce HIV, risky behavior

June 18, 2020
Children take part in a ChommY launch event. (Photo: Pact)

Engaging effectively with youth is critical to reducing South Africa’s high HIV and teenage pregnancy rates. This is why, in partnership with Pact, the country’s government recently launched ChommY, a social and behavior change program designed specifically for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

The goal of ChommY is to build knowledge and skills among young people that empower them to make more informed choices to reduce their risk for HIV, early pregnancy and substance abuse. The campaign’s slogan is “Invest in my future… protect me today.”

ChommY, a colloquial term for “friend,” aims to build positive friendships among youth and encourages boys and girls to motivate one another to minimize their involvement in risky behaviors. The program gives children the opportunity to develop a personal plan for their lives and emphasizes the importance of support from parents and communities.

Pact is supporting ChommY through the Government Capacity Building Support project, or GCBS. GCBS is a partnership between USAID’s PEPFAR program, the South African government’s Department of Social Development (DSD) and Pact. GCBS works specifically to improve services for orphans, vulnerable children, adolescents and youth to reduce the spread of HIV, to help them manage their health if they are HIV-positive, to know their status and to be educated about HIV. Under GCBS, Pact is helping to build DSD’s capacity to better support orphans and vulnerable children.

GCBS assisted DSD in the development of ChommY. ChommY’s program manual was written to align with DSD priorities to reach children between 10 and 14, drawing on cultural games to enhance its messaging.

Children take part in games as part of ChommY. (Photo: Tanja Bencun-Roberts/Pact)

Keneilwe Thipe, Free State’s provincial manager, says the games are a big part of the program and vital in reaching this age group.

“They help bridge the gap between the young and the old generation and create conversations in a fun and interactive manner. On the day we launched the program, we saw the older generation sharing some of their life experiences with the young people and young people listening and also using some of the shared lessons.”

Thipe, who also designed the messaging and content of ChommY and is the master trainer on the manual, says the program also makes use of journaling, encouraging youth to document their life goals.

Why ChommY

Megan Briede, GCBS’s technical director, says ChommY builds on the success of You Only Live Once, a DSD program that Pact supports to help older youth overcome social and behavioral drivers of HIV.

“The already successful YOLO program focuses on 14 to 24 years, but the younger age group was not being addressed, and this is where ChommY comes in,” Briede says. “Decisions and values that guide decision-making are established well before 14, hence the need to get children talking about positive decision-making and the impact of HIV and teen pregnancy as early as possible. We want to influence positive decision-making, including delayed sexual debut, as soon as possible.”

DSD Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu hugs a child during a ChommY launch event in Johannesburg. (Photo: Tanja Bencun-Roberts/Pact)

The deputy minister of DSD, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, is leading the roll out of the program nationally. Under GCBS, ChommY will be launched in Gauteng and Limpopo provinces later this year, as well as through the PEPFAR-funded government-to-government funding initiative in Gauteng (CoJ and Ekurhuleni) and KwaZulu-Natal (eThekwini).

Go here to watch an interview about ChommY with DSD Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.