The life of 17-year old Yuri, a college student from Kryvy Rih is not an easy one. He left his parents’ home when he was 16 to explore the ins and outs of adult life with all its pleasures and dangers. He did not have the will power to resist the temptations but having learned about the opportunity to participate in a program for adolescents named Street Smart he jumped at it without hesitation. The program was designed for young people whose behavior puts them at risk of HIV and STIs.
This program is of great importance in the region. Yuri was one of nearly 200 young people 11-18 years old who joined the cohort of Street Smart pilot program.
Yuri’s willingness to speak openly about his experience of substance abuse had a positive effect on the overall atmosphere during the Street Smart group sessions. “Thanks to Yuri the group participants particularly liked the session entitled “Enjoy the changes” – something that these boys and girls needed the most. They knew that their behavior could be risky but attempts to change this behavior was seen as self-denial”, - says Darya Kirilova, program facilitator.
Yuri soon realized that the pleasures of unsafe behavior are nothing compared to the risks. It was quite easy for him to quit smoking “grass” but decision to stop unprotected sex and avoid alcohol was tough. He had never been tested for HIV or STI but was absolutely sure that everything was OK with him.
During individual session at the end of the training course Yuri clearly defined the plans for the near future: “Stop drinking alcohol” and “take responsibility for my own life”.
The Street Smart methodology helps teenagers to gradually gain knowledge and specific skills to protect themselves from various risk factors. One of the positive outcomes of Street Smart for Yuri was his desire to get tested for HIV. By the end of the program he had participated in pre-HIV test counseling session and was informed about the possible implications of being diagnosed as either HIV positive or HIV negative.
The NGO “Nashe Maibutnye” (Our Future) that implements Street Smart in the city of Kryvyi Rih in Dnipropetrovsk oblast has built up a sound referral system in which Street Smart clients can continue to use social, medical, psychological and educational services provided by the city facilities. Meanwhile the NGO is planning to leverage additional funds to support the Street Smart program when the grant received from the USAID RESPOND project is over in March 2015. “Nashe Maibutnye” has conducted several round tables for representatives of local authorities, medical & educational organizations, social services and the media who expressed their readiness to integrate Street Smart into the system of services for youth in the city of Kryvyi Rih.