Anele Gamete, 19, was caught in a cycle of risky behaviour when he came across Health4Life at his school. He tells us the story of how he grew through the intervention, from a struggling adolescent seemingly unable to find his way, to a determined young man.
Tall for his age, Anele sits hunched in a school chair as he shares his life story of being raised by a grandmother who had good intentions but who lacked the tools to raise a rambunctious young man. “I was born in Khayelitsha, my mom was only 17 years old and my grandmother thought it was better if she raised me. My childhood was not easy because my grandmother struggled financially, so I decided to drop-out of school and help her when I was 14.”
“At the time I didn’t see why school was useful, it wasn’t helping anything at home. I knew I needed to get money fast, so I joined a group of my friends and we would make money by robbing people. We would steal anything we could sell, cell phones, laptops anything to make fast money.”
Anele tells us that he would continue on this downward spiral for two years; how his choices led him to find misjudged freedom at the mouth of a drug pipe; and how a near-fatal fight propelled him to begin changing his life.
“I became used to a life of stealling, using drugs like tik and not really having any direction. One day, a group of taxi drivers caught me and my friends stealing and they beat us badly. I stayed at home for a week because I was too scared to go out, I realised that this was not a good way to live my life and I told my grandmother I wanted to go back to school.”
Anele explains that his transition from out-of-school life to going back to school every day was not easy. He feels that he was lucky to encounter a support structure in his school that kept him focussed during this period.
“Eventhough I had decided to go back to school, it wasn’t easy. I thought that going back would be a quick fix, an easy way out from the life I was living. But I was still not thinking about my decisions or my future. I didn’t think it was important because my behaviour was no different to my friends. We were all doing the same things. I had never reflected about my life until I met the Health4Life counsellor. ”
Health4Life is a Salesian Life Choices intervention, dedicated to the physical, mental and social well-being of young people in schools. Once a week a Health4Life counsellor provides one-on-one youth friendly HIV counselling and testing services, and group talks on reproductive health. The intervention also offers one-on-one psycho-social support sessions with a therapist for learners with various social issues. Anele met the Health4Life counsellor when she gave a few talks to his class during Life Orientation periods.
“Life Choices came to my class to give four talks around healthy decisions. There was a session were they showed us pictures of different sexual transmitted diseases, I think it was their third session and I became worried when I thought about my past. I lost my virginity when I was 13 and have had many girlfriends since then. We never used protection. The counselor was young and friendly, so I decided to volunteer to have an HIV test; I felt I could trust her.”
Fortunately for Anele, his results were HIV negative, but the time he spent talking to the counsellor about his life while waiting for the results gave him what he terms a “wake-up call”.
“The Health4Life counsellor helped me see the dangers of my irresponsible behaviour. She spoke to me about the risks and what better decisions I can make. The experience of getting tested brought me back to reality. I knew that my life could have been very different had I tested positive. She explored with me the connection between drinking and using drugs and reckless behaviour. She motivated me to live a more responsible and healthy life.”
“I could never have imagined that an HIV testing session would have such an impact in my life. For the first time I spoke about my past with someone and she understood me with no judgement. She also asked me what I wanted to achieve in my future. At that time, I thought I wanted to own a taxi in the area after finishing school. I never thought about doing anything else, when someone would talk about studying after achool I always thought that was for other people. The counselor assisted me to explore my interests and encouraged me to talk to people about what they did after school. That is how I found out that I could join the navy and that is my plan now.”
“The idea of goals was so new to me, to think about a different reality and share it with someone was amazing. On my second session, the counsellor assisted me to develop a plan in how to achieve those goals and asked to meet with me from time to time to check that things were going according to plan. I felt very positive and motivated.”
Anele credits changing his life due to the support he received from the programme.
“Today my life is very different. I’m sticking to my life plan and working very hard at school. I love each time I meet with the counsellor and share some progress, we both celebrate my small achievements. I have chosen to stop drugs and change my behaviour with my girlfriend. After sharing with her what I learned from Life Choices we've decided to be more careful.”
“Life Choices has changed my life. A new world has opened up to me because I am making better decisions. Today I talk to my friends about how they can change their lives.”
Understanding what better life choices are, Anele is trying to help his peers in whatever way he can, even if it’s only being there as someone to who they can talk to. Because, as he says, “words from someone who took the time to care changed my life.”