17-year-old Nastya spent months on the run from her mother and stepfather while living on the streets and staying with friends. She dropped out of school and was barely making ends meet. At some point she moved in with her boyfriend but had to leave shortly after they broke up.
That’s when Nastya was enrolled in Street Smart program – an intensive prevention program for youth whose behaviors place them at risk of becoming infected with HIV/STIs. The program is implemented by Vira, Nadiya, Lyubov, an NGO in Odesa, Ukraine, under the grant received from the USAID RESPOND Project funded under the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and implemented by Pact.
Teens living or spending most of their time on the streets engage in risky behavior more often than the adults. Acting out certain risk behavior allows adolescents to feel like adults by doing things that adults do. While some aspects of adulthood do not seem to be achievable, things like alcohol, drugs and sexual activity are easy to access. But often young people are unable to identify their risk and personal trigger to protect themselves.
In the course of individual counseling Nastya revealed that she was pregnant but she had not seen a doctor yet. She explained that the very thought of having a baby, handling the responsibility, and the possibility of being infected with HIV was scary. The next day the program facilitator arranged a visit to a doctor and accompanied Nastya to the local Center for Social Services to help arrange for welfare benefits. Nastya had a medical check-up and tested negative for HIV. Meanwhile, local church provided Nastya with affordable housing.
With the support from Vira, Nadiya, Lyubov team, Nastya managed to overcome her fears. She gave birth to a healthy boy, Artyomka. “When we come over to visit Nastya, Artyomka is smiling in response to our greetings and so is Nastya ” – says Oksana Pchelnikova, director of Street Smart Program.
Street Smart is piloted in four regions of Ukraine through sub-grants to seven local organizations. These organizations are paired with a research institution within the frame-work of Implementation Science to ensure that the intervention is implemented with fidelity and collects evidence of its effectiveness within the Ukrainian context. Since July 2013, more than 600 boys and girls in Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Mykolayiv and Odesa regions of Ukraine have benefited from participation in the Street Smart program.
“I will always remember the Street Smart sessions because I’ve learned so many new and useful things for myself: I gained confidence, learned to value my own life and the life of my baby, and I learned to say ‘NO’ when it’s necessary,” – says Nastya.