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DREAMS Participants In Zambia; 2017; Zambia [Shawn E. Wesner]

Luckson, 52, and his daughter Selita, 17, live in a small community outside Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. They are close, but this wasn’t always the case. Like many men in his community, Luckson largely depended on his wife to care for their children. His role was more of the rule enforcer.

But then he learned about the Family Matters Program (FMP), administered through a local PEPFAR-supported DREAMS Center, which assists adolescent girls and young women to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe. Thanks to his participation in the program, Luckson dramatically improved his relationships with friends and family.

Through a seven-week course run by the Expanded Church Response Trust, parents and caregivers of adolescent girls and young women learn about issues such as puberty, child sexual abuse, disclosure of HIV status, health referrals, and medical and psychological services.

Perhaps most important to Luckson, parents are taught to be active in their children’s lives. They learn to exercise patience, communicate honestly, and engage their children in problem solving. At first uneasy and reluctant, Luckson began asking his daughter meaningful questions about her education, friends, and general well-being – all questions his own parents never asked him.

Luckson was initially hesitant to participate in the FMP because he knew the program was primarily attended by women. Ultimately, Luckson joined so he could set a positive example for his daughter and other fathers.

Since many working men could not attend the FMP sessions, Luckson invited friends and neighbors into his home each week to share what he had learned at the DREAMS Center. Only two men showed up for the first session, but word of the group spread, and, by the end of the seventh week, Luckson had a large and captive audience.

During these peer-to-peer meetings, many men had questions and concerns about HIV, including how to discuss the topic with their spouses and children. Some men had yet to disclose their own children’s status tothem and referred to antiretroviral drugs as “headache medicine.”

Before the FMP, Luckson felt that HIV was an unapproachable topic. Now he sees that having open and honest conversations about HIV gives parents and children the tools to make smart decisions and protect themselves. Through his peer group meetings, Luckson models to other men how to connect and talk with their own children.

When Luckson speaks of Selita he smiles, clearly proud of the young woman she has become. He says the two are, “friends, good friends.” He credits the PEPFAR-supported FMP for this success.

Luckson knows that over time, community norms can begin to change so that young women can have both male and female role models: “If we can put our traditions aside and focus on the situation presented before us and the knowledge which we have gained, we can make a positive impact upon all people within our community.”

U.S. Department of State

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