Changing Mindsets

Research says that one-third of teenage males feel pressure from their friends to have sex. 18-year-old Thamsanqa Nyangiwe spent many of his teenage years wanting to impress his friends what led to many bad decisions. Thami shares how guidance from his Health4Life counsellor changed his life.

Growing up in a township in Hout Bay, Thami says his unhealthy behaviour started when he was 12, “I got together with the wrong friends from school and the area. It began with writing graffiti on the wall and bunking school, but then in the same year it got worse to stealing and bullying.”

“There’s a lot more peer pressure in high school, when I got there the guys were talking about sex and I thought I also wanted to try what they were talking about. I remember them saying that I mustn’t be scared to try it. I wanted to impress them so I started seeing many girls at the same time and then began sleeping with them.”

Thami says that it was around this time that he attended the Health4Life Straight Talks at school.

Salesian Life Choices runs four Straight Talks sessions during life orientation periods with each Grade 9 class. These sessions deal with issues such as gender roles, healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual risk behaviour and prevention.

“The straight talks were interesting, it was the first time that I heard about all of the diseases one can get if you choose to have sex, and if you sleep with many girls. Before I knew about HIV but not about the other STI’s. We were also showed pictures of what the diseases looked like, it shocked me. I didn’t think about any of that before, older people get stuff… I never thought people my age also. I started thinking about things differently.”

Besides Straight Talks, Health4Life offers one-on-one HIV counselling and testing (HCT) and psychosocial support on a weekly basis in-school. Through attending the Straight Talk sessions, Thami developed a good relationship with the counsellor and decided to go for an individual session.

“Growing up I had people guiding me like my father and uncle, but meeting the Health4Life counsellor was different. He spoke about things no one had before and he emphasised the importance of knowing my HIV status. Before meeting him I never thought about taking an HIV test. I felt comfortable in sharing the decisions I had made with girls in the past. We spoke about my dreams, where I want to go in my future. I left the counselling session and went back to my friends who were still talking about sleeping with other girls… but I began thinking about what I wanted. I didn’t want a disease and I wanted to do better. I didn’t change immediately, but I know that I started looking at my life differently.”

During HCT sessions Health4Life staff assists learners to identify their life plans, dreams and goals are discussed and healthier choices that support those dreams are highlighted. Follow-up sessions are conducted with youth that display risk behaviours in the first session. Thami says that during a follow-up session he spoke to his counsellor about his relationships in-depth. “He listened to me and then we spoke about the choices I’ve been making and what the risks of multiple partners are. He asked me questions that made me realised that before I would be having sex with girls to impress friends. After that session my mind-set changed even more. I began seeing less of my friends, and started seeing less girls. I chose to have only one girlfriend.”

“I realised that before I would never think about how what I was doing in my life could affect my body. When me and the counsellor were talking about what I think caused me to want to impress others, I struggled with the answers but I know it mainly started at the beginning of high school when I wanted to fit in. That realisation motivated me to want to help other kids who are starting high school, so that they don’t feel pressured to make bad decisions.”

“I don’t think Grade 7 learners are ready for High School, and because they are not ready they make bad decisions to be accepted by their peers. Today, if I get a chance to speak to them I do. I really want to visit primary schools so that I can talk to learners about high school and choices – I want them to know that they need to impress themselves; not others.”

Thami continues seeing his Health4Life counsellor and is pursuing his goal of guiding other youth… the same way he was guided.

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