I have written many times about the work of Eve for Life. Now I am writing again, but not to bring good news. Eve is having to face up to the likelihood of imminent closure, unless urgently needed funds can be found in the next few weeks. It currently has 132 clients who will be affected – 72 in St. James, St. Ann, Westmoreland, Hanover and St. Mary and 60 in Kingston, St. Catherine and St. Thomas.
But there have always been good stories at Eve for Life: stories of hope and progress, of lives getting back on track, of support and renewed energy. It is a unique and remarkable organization. It is the only organization, whether governmental or non-governmental serving one of the most vulnerable sections of our population, providing prevention, treatment, care and support for adolescent and young women living with HIV, who are pregnant or mothers, as well as their families and support systems.
Now, who would disagree that young girls are vulnerable – even in a country with strong social safety nets, which of course Jamaica does not have? We know, unless we have been living under a rock, that adolescent reproductive health needs in Jamaica are great, and growing. Some 18 per cent of births in Jamaica are to adolescent or pre-adolescent girls (that is, under the age of twenty). Much more rigorous, focused, comprehensive and concerted action is urgently needed, or we will have a broken generation on our hands. All of this is relevant not only to the HIV response, but to all areas of national development that are rights‐based and gender responsive. And these are long-term issues; not pilot projects or projects, but fundamental health areas that must be fully integrated into our health and social services systems, with adequate resources. This is not happening.
Eve has soldiered on, overcoming a million daily challenges and just continuing. It works on the ground, person to person and peer to peer, in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. This is an area that is much talked about and where well-meaning initiatives come and go – but where, it seems, few resources are actually invested for the longer term. I can only conclude that we really don’t care that much about our young girls. Many of them are victims of rape and/or incest at a very young age, and many now still experience gender-based violence. Most are unemployed and living at or below the poverty line; besides trying to navigate their lives as HIV-positive mothers. They do not always have family support and they often suffer from stigma and discrimination among their family, their immediate community and wider society. Yes, these problems are still very real.
And yet. Yet, despite all this, there is a sense that it’s their fault. These girls brought it on themselves. Victim-blaming is, after all, alive and well in the Caribbean as it is elsewhere in the world; it can apply to teenage girls, too. Or perhaps it is also that those who are better off don’t like to look at these girls or at their lives too closely. It’s something we are uncomfortable with. We will just call them “marginalized populations.” But these are young Jamaican girls. Like any other young Jamaicans, they want to go back to school, get training, earn money, make a better life for themselves and their families and most of all, to see hope in their future.
Eve has always been involved in partnerships, primarily with the Ministry of Health, which is expected to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on teenage and young mothers living with HIV. Its Mentor Mom program has contributed in a variety of ways to the overall HIV response in Jamaica. There is so much more work to do, as anyone in this field will tell you. This is no time for complacency. Eve provides comprehensive information and training in sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV, life skills, advocacy, voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), group education, peer education and case management to groups of teenage and young mothers living with HIV aged between fourteen and twenty-four years. Once qualified to provide mentorship, the young mothers are assigned to select health facilities, under guidance from a pMTCT nurse and the Mentor Mom Coordinator. Adolescent and young mothers are referred into the program through antenatal clinics or HIV treatment sites by adherence counsellors, pMTCT nurses, doctors or social workers. The program offers opportunities for mainstreaming such services (including “best practice” training schedules and materials, many of which are online and currently in use in local schools and other institutions) into the public health sector for a more holistic package of care and support.
OK, so here is a list that shows the many ways in which the Mentor Mom program has been enormously successful, just in the past year:
- Between January and December 2015, 103 young mothers aged 12 – 24 were being mentored and guided by 20 Mentor Moms and eight Life coaches (older HIV+ mothers).
- 114 children aged 0 – 16 years old received social and educational support as part of the program.
- Over 80 HIV group education sessions were held at hospitals in Kingston, St. Catherine, St. Ann, St. James and Westmoreland parishes
- 15,236 repeat attendees (female) reached at antenatal clinics in five parishes (Kingston, St. Catherine, St. Ann, St. James and Westmoreland).
- Psychosocial support addressed the underlying and unique needs of the young mothers and enabled them to respond adequately to the stress of being infected. They are thus less likely to develop serious mental health problems (we know mental health is another huge area of concern in our society that requires much more attention than it currently receives).
- 15 beneficiaries received grants to start their own business;
- 35 adolescent girls accessed educational and vocational opportunities;
- 75 families with at least two children under 16 years old benefitted from educational support including school fees, text books, stationery, lunch, travel support and school uniform;
- Four clients received housing support in 2015;
- There was strong evidence of improvement in self-esteem and self-efficacy to engage in self-protective behaviors.
Two important areas in HIV are adherence and disclosure. What do these words mean? Adherence means sticking to your treatment program. Mentor Moms and Life Coaches (older women living with HIV) make sure the girls take their medication and maintain their health by having a balanced diet (which is challenging when funds are low). When mental health concerns are addressed and counseling provided, adherence is more likely.
Disclosure relates to the environment in which the girls live, and it’s equally challenging. It is encouraged throughout the program, and as such, disclosure is treated as a life skill. Girls are walked through a process of disclosure and role-play discussions with their loved ones. The discussions address selection of the partner(s), family member(s) or friend(s) to whom the clients will disclose, how and whether they require the assistance of a life coach, mentor mom or trained counsellor. Each Life Coach and Mentor Mom must have disclosed to their partner or a family member so they can offer the most meaningful help to mentees in this area.
This is just one plank of Eve for Life’s valuable programs. I have not even touched on their “Nuh Guh Deh!” campaign to address the sexual abuse of girls by older men; nor have I mentioned yet the support group established by the girls themselves for survivors of gender-based violence in western Jamaica, ROAR.
And let us not forget the young children, who are at risk. Recently, due to lack of funds, Eve has had to abandon its program for orphans and vulnerable children. It has also had to end its services in rural areas, where it has encountered the highest levels of child sexual abuse.
So what is Eve’s situation, precisely? Currently, it has some funds that will last until June 2016. It has lost some staff and may have to lay off almost all its staff due to inability to pay them. It has been managing to earn enough to cover administrative costs, but these funds have come to an end. The situation is desperate. Eve for Life needs J$3.96 million (approximately US$32,727) to cover administrative costs for one year; $10.8 million (approx. US$89,000) for staff costs and $29,661,700 (approx. US$245,000) to cover the Mentor Mom Program and the “Nuh Guh Deh!” Campaign. It needs J$44,421,700 (approx. US$367,000) to be able to continue with a full program of services for one year. If at least one of these areas could be funded, Eve for Life would manage to stay open.
To date, $500,000 Jamaican dollars (US$4167) have been earned from sales of the “I am Now Free” booklet (the personal story of a survivor of child sexual abuse) and other donations. Proceeds from the sale and donations have been used to build a one-bedroom house for the author, who up to August 2015 was sharing a bed with two of her male relatives. Funds were also allocated to provide funds for rental of a home for a survivor who was in a violent relationship with her spouse as well as legal support. Other funds have been used to offset educational and other social needs of survivors of sexual abuse.
Also resulting from the “Nuh Guh Deh!” campaign, a Jamaica Diaspora group – Jamaica Diaspora Nuh Guh Deh Task Force http://www.nuhguhdeh.org/ – took up the campaign in Florida and began partnering with EVE for Life. The task force was formed to provide information and garner support for sexual abuse survivors served by EVE for Life in Jamaica.
I have been personally involved with Eve for Life since its inception to some degree or other – whether as a board member or as a supporter – because I believe so strongly in the importance of their work, their competence, commitment and their deep understanding of the complex challenges facing their clients. They are caring without being sentimental; they believe in teaching (a girl) to fish, rather than giving her a fish. They are empowering, uplifting and have created a tight support network of mentors, mothers, even grandmothers and some fathers, too.
This situation truly breaks my heart when I think of the courage of the girls themselves – a courage I don’t think I would ever have. The Eve for Life network system has everything to do with these 132 girls being able to get up every morning and carry on, and for their children to eat breakfast and go to school. That is a large part of courage. It’s not an easy thing to just get up and carry on.
If you ever met or talked to any of these girls, you would know what I mean. They are facing up to life, and they deserve the support. Please help, if you can; and please spread the word.
If you are able to help, these are the ways you can do so. Any donation, however small, is gratefully received.
1. Bank Name: Bank of Nova Scotia, Financial Centre
Bank Address:132-132A Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10
Account Name: EVE for Life
Account Number: 21725 32543 Account type: US Dollar
Account Number: 21725 32433 Account type: JA Dollar
Bank Code: NOSCJMKN (Bank of Jamaica Ltd.)
Branch ID: 21725
Intermed Bank: JPMorgan Chase
Swift Code: CHASUS33
3. Contact Information – Joy Crawford, Director of Programme and Training
Email – email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org