Jeanne, 21 years old, lives in San Pedro, a city in southwest Côte d’Ivoire about 500 kilometers from Abidjan. Like many young girls, Jeanne came to this port city in search of a better life. With its port, San Pedro is a city in which a lot of economic activity is concentrated, attracting men and women from all areas of the country. Jeanne never went to school because her parents could not afford it. “My parents did not send me to school because they were poor,” she states with a touch of bitterness. Jeanne is the third of seven children, including four girls. Life was not always easy for her, and at 17 she decided to leave home to seek her fortune. One morning in October 2013, with one of her friends who had the same ambitions she did, she left her native Bouaké for San Pedro with, as her only luggage, a bundle of belongings and her dreams.
In San Pedro, Jeanne worked at one odd job after another with mixed results. When she finally managed to put together a small sum, she started a business. “During the day, I sell fresh fish which I buy at the port and, when evening comes, I sell a bit of salad at the side of the road.” With the money she made, she was able to rent a small wooden hut in the precarious BARDOT neighborhood, and she sends a little money back to her parents from time to time.
Living alone, especially in a large city like San Pedro, is not always easy for a young girl. “At the beginning, it was very hard for me. I was too quick to trust everyone, and people took advantage of that, particularly the boyfriends that I had. After a few months, I had a boyfriend seven years older than I was. At the beginning of our relationship, we used condoms. Neither he nor I have yet been tested for HIV. After a while, he asked me to have unprotected sex with him, which I refused. Because of that, he became violent.” She goes on, “I didn’t know what to do, and I had no arguments to convince him. I was about to give in to his pressure when I heard about Super Go.” She goes on to relate how one of her friends who had already participated in Super Go recommended this behavior change program aimed at equipping young girls to be able to make good decisions at critical moments in their lives.
Super Go is a program financed by USAID and PEPFAR through the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative that, through workshops four meetings long, encourages young girls who are not yet sexually active to delay their sexual debut as long as possible and tries to motivate those who are sexually active to use condoms consistently with each sexual encounter. “At the beginning, I didn’t want to go through the program, because I thought I wouldn’t have the time to participate in all the meetings, but when I went to the first meeting, I was impressed with all the good information that the facilitators there gave us and by the testimonies of some participants. In the end, I was able to attend all the meetings. I say ‘Thank you’ to Super Go because today I have no more problems with my boyfriend since I persuaded him and he came to one meeting himself and saw the importance of getting tested and using condoms. He and I have gotten tested and that has brought us closer together. Moreover, I know my body better. I hope that Super Go continues and that all my sisters benefit from this activity to bring order into their lives,” concludes Jeanne.
Hearing Jeanne speak, you can feel the joy and enthusiasm in her voice. She who never went to school displays a legitimate pride as she shows off the certificate of participation that was given to her at the end of the four educational sessions. Thanks to Super Go, every year thousands of young girls like Jeanne have their life skills strengthened, making them less vulnerable to HIV. In 2016, about 51,000 young girls between the ages of 15 and 24 benefited from the Super Go program at 10 sites in the south, southwest and central regions of Côte d’Ivoire.