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In 2009, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in partnership with Lesotho Catholic Bishops Conference (LCBC) initiated an HIV prevention response that aimed to address the systemic and environmental factors that make adolescents, particularly girls, vulnerable to HIV infection by addressing issues of gender inequality, gender-based violence, and three modes of HIV transmission; multiple and concurrent partners, trans-generational sex and early debut. The HIV Education for Adolescent Response, Motivation, and Empowerment (HEAR-ME) project offered key messages about HIV prevention and provided information on gender issues to adolescents through faith-based schools in conjunction with teachers and church leaders.The project reached out to adolescents and adults in five districts (Maseru, Leribe, Berea, Thaba Tseka, Mohale’s Hoek) of Lesotho. The approach took into account a high percentage of religious affiliation among the youth and adults in Lesotho, as well as established work by the churches and schools to promote HIV prevention. The project was implemented between July 2009 and September 2011.
To review the project‟s progress and impact against strategic objectives and intended results, an end-of-project evaluation was conducted. The evaluation provides a narrative account of outcomes of the HEAR-ME project derived from routine project reports and qualitative data collection, as well as providing a brief analysis on intended and unintended process impact to make recommendations on future HIV and Gender programming for adolescents and young people in Lesotho.
The key evaluation questions were:
1. To what extent has the HEAR-ME project created an enabling and supportive environment for adolescents in project areas to protect themselves from HIV infection?
2. To what extent has the HEAR-ME project strengthened the knowledge and capacity of church and community leaders to communicate accurate and relevant HIV prevention facts and strategies?
3. To what extent has the HEAR-ME Project made community and church leaders become more aware of gender and child rights in their communities?
4. To what extent has the HEAR-ME project contributed to adolescents reporting gender-based violence and rights violations and increased access to support services in the community?
In terms of its outputs and targets, the HEAR-ME project reached a total of 14 688 people, of which 12,733 were young people (ages 10-24) reached with integrated messages on HIV prevention, gender and human rights. Of the total number of people reached, 59% were female and 41% were male. The HIV prevention component was implemented in 262 schools, where 877 teachers, 120 community and 925 church leaders and 778 peer educators were trained on communicating basic HIV prevention. Specific gender-focused workshops involved a total of 626 teachers, 766 peer educators, 101 community and 925 church leaders. By the end of the project, a total of 262 schools had established HEAR-ME clubs which implemented regular activities on HIV prevention, gender and rights. The project had intended to reach a total of 17,900 anticipated adolescent participants. While the monitoring data indicates a shortfall in the number of youth reached compared to the initial targets set, there is some evidence that the reach of the project extended beyond the initial clubs, and that information (in particular the training materials) reached a wider audience.
With respect to outcomes and intended results, feedback from focus group discussions and key informant interviews in three of the core project areas (Maseru, Berea, Leribe districts) indicated that youth, teachers and community leaders felt that the project directly contributed to creating an enabling environment for young people to make healthy decisions and protect themselves from HIV.
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