Gaborone Teen Club: Make a Difference Day with Barclays Bank!

*For more information about our 2009-2010 Fundraising Drive, please visit our Donations page.*

The following post is courtesy of Jessica Charles, an Adult Volunteer for Gaborone Teen Club:

Adult volunteers and teens work together to clean up the proposed site for Botswana's first Adolescent Centre for HIV-positive teens as part of "Make a Difference Day" sponsored by Barclays Bank Botswana. (Photo courtesy of Ed Pettitt)


Gaborone Teen Club: Make a Difference Day with Barclays Bank!

The Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence (COE) has acquired a new plot adjacent to Princess Marina Hospital to accommodate their ever-expanding Teen Club programme. Teen Club was started by the Botswana-Baylor COE in 2005 to help support HIV-positive Batswana teenagers. Although it began with just five adolescent members, the club has now grown to involve over 400 members in five different villages throughout Botswana. In Gaborone, the Botswana-Baylor COE is taking measures to accommodate this growth by establishing an Adolescent Centre where members can receive individual counselling, computer skills training, life skills and health education, sports and other recreational activities, tutoring and career guidance, caregiver support, organic gardening and nutritional counselling and financial literacy training.

A project of this magnitude does not take come to fruition without the efforts of many. On Saturday 31st October, Teen Club members and adult volunteers met at the new site and were joined by over 40 employees from Commercial, Corporate Affairs and Tlokweng branch of Barclays Bank. Teens and Barclays employees donned sweaty bandanas and dirty gloves while labouring for four long hours to clear the overgrown brush, remove giant fallen branches and sweep the mangled yard.

The work was intense but inspired. Volunteers from Tlokweng Branch, Commercial, Procurement and Corporate Affairs specifically selected the Baylor Teen Club as Botswana’s focus for the bank’s worldwide “Make a Difference” campaign. The event takes place in 50 different countries and is designed to help bank employees get involved in assisting disadvantaged groups through participation in community projects.

During the period of 24 October to 7 November, , Barclays employees throughout Botswana were participating in 69 different “Make a Difference Day” projects including financial literacy workshops, clean-up events, vegetable garden projects, home refurbishment tasks for destitutes and “Fun Days” for orphans. Even within Princess Marina Hospital there was another project taking place in the Paediatric Ward where Barclays employees were busy refurbishing the hospital’s playground and spending time with the young patients.

Yodit Kassaye-Molosi is the Community Relations Manager for Barclays Bank in Botswana. On Saturday she left her business suit at home and, instead, was clad in dusty gloves, sandy shoes and a Barclays t-shirt. She drops her rake to shake my hand. The partnership between Barclays and Baylor’s Teen Club began over a year ago and funding to the tune of P 360,000 was provided. Since then, Barclays employees have organized a number of events for Teen Club including a financial literacy session for Gaborone Teen Club and a money management day for Molepolole Teen Club. Barclays has also sponsored a workshop on proposal writing for a number of local NGOs that currently work with the Baylor Clinic and help to fund their programmes.

“Lots of corporations have Corporate Social Responsibility programmes,” Kassaye-Molosi tells me, dusting off her jeans. “But what’s unique about the Barclays ‘Charity Begins at Work’ programme is that colleagues don’t just donate money—instead our employees give of their time, physical labour and skills.”

She takes a minute to look around the yard where her team of professionals is busy dragging branches and scooping up piles of leaves. “It’s rewarding when I see colleagues engaging and making a difference in people’s lives,” she continues. “As busy as my employees are with their own jobs, it’s humbling and rewarding to see how much they want to give back.”

Teen Club Coordinator Edward Pettit is also incredibly grateful for the partnership with Barclays and was particularly pleased at the bank’s generous contributions to Saturday’s project: “Make a Difference Day would not have been possible without the generous support of Barclays Bank Botswana. Not only did they supply the funding for the tools and materials to clear our plot and start our gardens, they also provided a huge team of volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to help us complete the work at hand.”

These long hours of work will soon result in establishment of the Teen Club’s multi-functional Adolescent Centre. The Adolescent Centre will be the first facility of its kind on the African continent that caters to the needs of a rapidly growing HIV-positive adolescent population. It will contain offices for a social worker and Teen Club staff as well as a recreation room and an all-weather outdoor multi-purpose court where the teens can play netball, volleyball, badminton and a variety of other sports. The centre’s outdoor gardens will be incorporated into a holistic programme on health and nutrition and vegetable sales will be used to generate income for the club.

While the Botswana-Baylor staff and Barclays employees were clearly enthused about the many benefits of this project, the teens themselves were also thrilled. For many of the Teen Club members, having their own private space for meetings and services is seen as vital to their group’s mission and something they have long hoped for:

“I’m excited about the Adolescent Centre because I actually requested it this year,” said one of the Teen Club founders, Batho Mophane* (17). “It will be good to have a place where us leaders can help the other teens to deal with problems who don’t normally go to counsellors or social workers.”

“I’m happy because now they will have a building for us,” said another teen leader, Oteng Sefako (16). “The Baylor Clinic is busy sometimes… this new building will be used for classes and recreation.”

Diane Kgalalelo (16) and Thato Lerape (18) were both members from the start of Teen Club back in February of 2005. While many of the younger club members expressed excitement over the basketball court or garden facilities, Diane and Thato were more impressed by the privacy that will be offered with the new facilities.

“Sometimes it’s hard to come here because this is a hospital and it’s busy,” said Thato. “We can’t do our private things for Teen Club.”

Diane sits to the right of Thato nodding. She tells me about the importance of privacy and confidentiality for the many teens who come to the centre and have not yet disclosed their status, “When I’m here we talk. If I have problems, if she has problems, then we talk,” Diane pauses and then adds, “Because we can’t talk about status and things like that at school.”

Diane and Thato worked outside on Saturday but inside the Baylor Clinic the younger teens (ages 13 – 15) were listening to a panel discussion on an important issue: disclosure.

The disclosure panel included 6 people sharing their stories—5 young adults who are publicly disclosed and one 16-year-old girl who has disclosed her status to several of her close friends. HIV-positive teens listened intently to their brave stories and were encouraged to consider their own options and decisions regarding disclosure to their friends, family and community.

Trish Dugan, the Botswana-Baylor COE Volunteer Coordinator, echoed much of the same sentiments that the teens had shared, “The three big issues for these kids are adherence, disclosure and sexuality… the new Adolescent Centre means more hours and more room to do more programmes with these kids surrounding those themes.”

Ms. Dugan was also greatly impressed by the Barclays presence but not completely surprised. According to Ms. Dugan, the community response to Teen Club has been incredibly enthusiastic. “Earlier this year we tapped into the University of Botswana which has brought us a nonstop flow of college students, primarily psychology and social work major. Now I’ve got more than enough volunteers… we even had to stop taking volunteers for a while because it was getting overwhelming!”

Ms. Dugan’s testament is not an exaggeration. During Saturday’s “Make a Difference Day”, adult volunteers arrived from Barclays Bank but also from a plethora of other local organizations. When asked, Pettitt smiled and rattled them off, “We had over 35 adult volunteers and support from The Works, Bernard Hyde Associates, The Quality Factory, Somarelang Tikologo, Dialogue Saatchi, Wizards Music Group, DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, World University Services Canada (WUSC), Peace Corps Botswana, Botswana Association for Positive Living, Botswana College of Agriculture, Institute of Health Sciences, Princess Marina Hospital, Centre for Youth of Hope (CEYOHO), Botswana Christian AIDS Intervention Programme (BOCAIP) – Tumelong, Gabane Support Group, Hope Worldwide Botswana, Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and the Baylor International Paediatric AIDS Initiative.”

As if all this was not enough, the Baylor Clinic also had the honour of welcoming a Teen Club donor from the United States, Ms. Barbara Reisman, to “Make a Difference Day”. Reisman first learned about Teen Club from her daughter, Dr. Leah Scherzer, who works as a paediatrician in Serowe through the Baylor Clinic’s Paediatric AIDS Corps. After hearing her daughter discuss her involvement with Baylor Clinic and Camp Hope, Ms. Reisman made a generous donation to the Teen Club through the Baylor website. This donation was then put to use right before her eyes in the establishment and preparation of the Adolescent Centre.

“I think the work that they’re doing is very important,” Reisman said, reflecting on the day. “It is great to see young people so engaged in building their own futures. Each one of them was attentive and participative today…it will be really great to have a place for these young people to meet and for them to help each other.”

Dr. Leah Scherzer echoed her mother’s admiration for Teen Club and went on to highlight the group’s value in terms of both the physiological and psychological support it provides to HIV-positive youth: “For HIV-positive patients, medical benefits are always tied to the psychological. What I often see are lots of kids not taking their meds due to a lack of support… they often have no one to open up to… and they really need someone who can encourage them to take their meds… Teen Club provides a chance for these children to feel like they’re not alone.”

For this and numerous other reasons, Dr. Scherzer is now working with nurses in her base villages of Serowe and Palapye to start their own Teen Club. Similar efforts are being made in numerous other Batswana villages where the positive impact of Teen Club is known and needed.

“I’m just excited about today,” Mophane told me as soon as the event began. “I just want to see how it all looks when we’re done. A Friday ago this place was bushy and dirty—today I woke up and saw that it’s already cleaner and looking great… I can’t wait to see how it looks by lunch time!”

Mophane wasn’t disappointed. By noon on Saturday the yard of the Adolescent Centre was clean, tidy and one step closer to becoming a functional building for Teen Club.

The Adolescent Centre’s progress within these few hours seems to epitomize the Teen Club’s development within the few years since its founding. Community assistance, teen involvement, satellite expansion, financial and in-kind contributions… one building, one club, one kid at a time. If the Teen Club can grow like this in less than five years, where will they be in 10 years?

Barbara Reisman articulates one dream: “The way Teen Club is helping young people take responsibility for their lives and future is critical for stopping the spread of HIV and promoting long term health and sustainability of the nation… I hope Teen Club members will strengthen their support for each other but also find ways to be leaders in Botswana through testing and preventing the spread of HIV.”

It seems like Teen Club is well on its way to achieving these and so many other goals. With continued support from Baylor, Barclays, UNICEF, local volunteers, international donors, and Botswana’s Ministry of Health, there seems to be no limit to the positive impact these teens can make in their own lives and in their communities and country at large.

*Names of teen members have been changed to protect confidentiality.