Though we knew from the outset that Vitu Newala would be limited in reach and the number of issues it could address in the pilot period, in many ways, the impact exceeded our expectations. We hoped that the project would empower the young women who participated, and also start to change the attitudes and beliefs of individual boys and adults in the community who took part– and it did. But it acted as a catalyst for broader change as well.
For the first time we saw adults and young people alike talking about some of the structures and practices in their communities that put young people at risk, and that heighten young girls’ vulnerability to HIV. These conversations led to changes in policy and socially accepted practices, something we did not necessarily anticipate from this relatively brief pilot intervention.
For example, video parlours, discos and traditional initiation ceremonies were all identified by girls as places where they felt very much at risk. While our project did not set out to intentionally change rules governing video parlours and discos, or to change practices around the traditional initiation ceremonies, the conversations that ensued from Vitu Newala led to decisions within these communities to put in place bylaws and change practices in order to present a few more layers of protection for young women.