- Category: HIV Prevention Education, Youth Development
- Country: South Africa
In Project AIM, imagination is the key to success. The program encourages children to focus on what they want their lives to look like, and helps them devise practical steps to making those dreams a reality. By targeting youths’ attention toward a future goal, the program has been shown to decrease engagement in sexual risk behaviors.
At Hope Ed, we believe that hope and practical tools are the most useful gifts we can give to children. Many young people engage in high-risk behaviors because they either do not have something better on which to focus their attention, or they don’t believe that there will ever be anything better for them. The South African prevalence rate among youth ages 10-14 is estimated at 9%, and it jumps to 14% for the 15-19 age bracket. The 11-14 year age range is a key window of opportunity to prevent high risk sexual behavior.
What is Project AIM?
Project AIM is a small group intervention targeting youth ages 11-14 and focused on indirectly reducing high-risk sexual behavior. AIM stands for Adult Identity Mentoring. The program is based on Markus’ Theory of Possible Selves, which states that an individual’s success is directly related to their ability to balance imaginations of both positive and negative future selves. It is the ability to balance both of these possibilities that allows youth to make healthy choices and pursue goals. The program was originally designed by the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase healthy sexual behaviors among African-American youth. It was adapted for the South African context as part of a multi-pronged approach to HIV prevention. Implementation consists of 12 50-minute sessions led by a pair of facilitators (male and female). Sessions involve presentations by community leaders, development of career goals, and constructive discussion and role play. While the program does not explicitly address sexual topics at all, it has been shown to reduce sexual risk activity among participants.
Project AIM in South Africa
HEF was chosen by CDC to implement the Project AIM program pilot in South Africa in 2012-2013. We are currently implementing at 2 sites: Orange Farm and Mataffin, both of which are low-income urban areas of a larger city (Johannesburg and Nelspruit, respectively). These communities have welcomed Project AIM, and facilitators are able to provide more than just session facilitation. They are able to mentor participants. We operated with 1 pair of facilitators at each site for the majority of the pilot, but recently added a pair at each of the sites.
What is being achieved?
So far, 321 youth have participated in the program. We have dedicated teams at each site that are impacting children and are being impacted themselves. One facilitator described herself as lucky. “Where I am working”, she said, “the kids are really willing to be part of the sessions, and they do participate. They will wait for up to an hour between school and Project AIM sessions. They have a passion to learn.” Feedback from these learners shows that the majority feel that Project AIM facilitators let them know that why they have to say matters, and that the program helped them think about their future.
We’d like to see Project AIM expand both in South Africa and outside of it. It’s been a privilege to implement this pilot, and it has us convinced that this program is a positive influence on youth. We will be working to increase the capacity and expertise of our 8 facilitators. We would also like to start Project AIM sites in US cities in the future, where we envision combining the program with an college internship program so that college students can learn to facilitate youth intervention sessions alongside experienced facilitators.