30 September 2015, Nairobi – An external evaluation has showered praise on AHAPPY, the HIV prevention program for youth created and run by AJAN.
AJAN commissioned an evaluation of the pilot phase of AHAPPY to ascertain whether the program has truly managed to empower young people to make informed and responsible choices for happier, more compassionate and more successful lives. The pilot covered seven countries: Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Burundi, CAR and Togo.
One of the evaluators from Nairobi-based Strategic Dimensions, Ochieng Oloo, actually said AHAPPY was considered to be “brilliant”. The report is categorical: “AHAPPY has achieved most of the objectives which were set for the pilot phase and has recorded exemplary results.”
AHAPPY was born after 33 Jesuits and co-workers from 12 African countries met at AJAN House in 2011 to talk about HIV prevention among youth. They urged AJAN to develop a tailor-made program for Jesuit educational institutions – of which there are many throughout Africa – that would integrate Ignatian values, spirituality and pedagogy. Other Catholic schools were quick to buy into AHAPPY once the program started being rolled out.
The evaluators found that AHAPPY has filled a gap in the African educational system for programs that enhance the integral development of young people. Their findings indicate that young people have indeed benefited from AHAPPY, with marked improvements in life-skills, self-esteem, academic performance, relationships, and better absorption of values.
This can only be good news, especially in a continent where teenagers and young adults aged between 15 and 24 years still account for 42% of all new HIV infections among people older than 15. Girls and young women are more vulnerable and much more likely as males of the same age to be living with HIV.
“AHAPPY has helped the youth to decipher myths about HIV that they could have heard in the community where they live,” says the report, adding that the young people go on to become “ambassadors” of information, awareness and positive living. Reduced stigmatization and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS were also noted.
In other key observations, the evaluators praised the promotion of positive values by AHAPPY and the active engagement of teachers and youth in the development of the program. And they said transmitting AHAPPY by using participatory methods – such as peer educators, Youth Against AIDS (YAA) clubs, ‘families’ of students – has encouraged easier acceptance of the program.
All three components of the program – the manual, the TOT (Training of Trainers) sessions and the mini-films – were found to be high-quality, informative, educational and inclusive of different languages, religions and cultures.
Specifically about the manual, the evaluation found that it was “acceptable to a wide audience both regionally and internationally; including agencies such as UNESCO & UNICEF.”
And about the mini-films: “The learning aids that have been developed by the program are uniquely African; scripts are written by the youth from different parts of the continent. They have proved to be a great source of information, providing reality lessons on their vulnerability and highlighting prevention mechanisms.”
The evaluation charted key lessons learned, best practices, challenges and any unintended outcomes. One happy unintended outcome is that many young people trained as peer educators by AHAPPY teams have gone on to assume leadership roles in their schools and clubs. The report attributes this success to “the fact that AHAPPY moulds these youths through a formation process that builds their confidence and self esteem, and creates self awareness.”
AHAPPY has flourished despite a number of challenges highlighted in the evaluation, among them a lack of funding, the limited human resources of AJAN, which must coordinate the program in a vast region, and the fact that AHAPPY is not a priority for some of the implementing institutions and is thus at the mercy of the goodwill of the authorities there.
The evaluation made several useful recommendations for the improvement of AHAPPY. These include publishing an e-version of the manual, promoting AHAPPY among Catholic Episcopal Conferences, and enhancing communication with Jesuit provinces to increase the uptake of AHAPPY in their schools and institutions.