April 7, 2011
This summer an interfaith non-profit will launch a peer outreach program in Jacksonville's Eastside to teach youths about HIV/STD prevention and other life skills. With a $150,000 grant awarded by drugmaker Merck, the FreshMinistries Siyafundisa Outreach will involve about 32 area youths, mostly ages 14-18, as peer educators.
In 2005, Siyafundisa debuted in South Africa with support from the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. FreshMinistries hired program managers and trained the youths; Harvard's School of Public Health helped develop the curriculum; and the Anglican Church offered its facilities and provided assistance. The five-year, $10 million initiative ultimately involved more than 350 sites and reached thousands of South African youths. Local activists continue the program, said Pam Kearney, FreshMinistries' director of program development and communications.
"Siyafundisa has been so successful in South Africa, and the feedback we've received has been very encouraging," said the Rev. Robert V. Lee III, chair and CEO of FreshMinistries. "So we wanted to demonstrate that the model and idea was portable and could be implemented successfully in an area with somewhat different circumstances."
Siyafundisa will use age-appropriate abstinence messages but will also teach peer educators about condom use, said Michelle Hughes, FreshMinistries' director of domestic operations. The aim is for each peer educator to teach at least 10 others what they learned, she said.