Their names are Mercy, Charity and Princess.
They live in what would appear to be a perfect storm of extreme poverty, gender violence and hopelessness.
Imagine you are a young woman who already has been married and has two young children. You have been abandoned. You live in a town with 90% unemployment.
You must feed your babies so you turn to sex work, the only option for many young women to make money here. Most men don’t want to wear condoms so you are at risk of contracting HIV every time you try to earn money to feed your family. You fear HIV, but feel you can do little to protect yourself.
This is a world Tatenda Songore believes he can change with a cellphone and a little human kindness. Tatenda started Youth Advocates Zimbabwe (YAZ), an example of ingenuity and necessity coming together. YAZ uses text messaging and on-the-ground counselors to connect girls and young women to health services, education opportunities and, if necessary, shelter from gender abuse. YAZ has already directly impacted the lives of more than 3,000 young women, with plans to increase scope to serve a wider geographic area. Each girl evokes memories for Tatenda of his mother, a sex worker who died from AIDS when he was a teenager.
He is on a mission to save lives, to help young women build lives for themselves and their families
Ask Tatenda about the role Johnson & Johnson plays in all this and he says the commitment is more than money. Cori Vail and Bob Bowden from Johnson & Johnson are seen as partners, as collaborators, as friends. The three work on strategy, on expanding scope, on understanding the data that is obtained by their work and success.
The YAZ program is connected to PEPFAR DREAMS, a program established by President George W. Bush.
How do you know a program like this is working? You spend a day listening to the young women of Gweru, their stories of determination and resilience. And while listening, you learn that a young woman who was planning to take her own life, as well as the lives of her children, is now in school, at work and supporting her family.
Listening to these young women and hearing what is important to them, you learn that when people come together and care for one another; lives, communities and the world move forward.