The Launch of LEARN

Young Women Lead, Evidence, Advocate, Research, Network (LEARN) is a two-year pilot in Kenya and Uganda that is funded by the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. Led by the ATHENA Initiative, LEARN trains adolescent girls and young women who are affected by HIV to be HIV-prevention ambassadors. The ambassadors gather data to contribute to the evidence base of HIV-prevention science, and advocate for prevention programming that reflects their lives, values, and preferences. In this way, LEARN is filling a gap in information about what adolescent girls and young women need, want, and hope, which is vital to keeping them from HIV infection.

LEARN is built on the principle of amplifying the voices of adolescent girls and young women, and creating opportunities to nurture leadership. In May 2017, ATHENA hosted a week-long training in Nairobi for the 10 Kenyan and Ugandan LEARN ambassadors. The young women gained research, leadership, advocacy, and monitoring and evaluation skills; and learned about gender, human rights, and HIV prevention. The safe training environment also allowed the ambassadors to tell their personal stories, gain affirmation, and develop relationships with each other, their mentors, and LEARN trainers and staff.

The training also included a ‘hands-on’ approach, as participants practiced their new research skills to develop the community dialogue tools that they will use in the second year of the project.

During the training week, ATHENA hosted a breakfast at which the LEARN ambassadors spoke to partners, donors, and government representatives about the need to include adolescent girls and young women in HIV-prevention policy development.

The ATHENA Initiative has set up a WhatsApp group that allows the ambassadors to share updates from their mobilization and advocacy activities, ask questions, and talk about challenges they encounter. Periodic trainings are held via Skype to complement the support provided by the WhatsApp group.

The ambassadors are now conveying information and mobilizing their communities on HIV prevention, and recruiting peer mobilizers. As the LEARN ambassadors raise awareness and empower other young women, they are solidifying their own skills as future leaders.

JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., is the DREAMS Innovation Challenge Funds manager and in that role supports 46 DREAMS-IC winners selected to execute cutting-edge programs across the 10 countries. JSI provides overall program support for DREAMS–IC and technical assistance to implementing partners includes strengthening partners’ institutional capacity to manage awards in compliance with U.S. Government regulations and supporting them in reaching the DREAMS–IC goal to reduce the incidence of HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.

To learn more about the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, please visit www.dreamspartnership.org. This publication was funded through a grant from the United States Department of State as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or JSI.