Amanuel Aklilu admits that when he attended his first session of DKT’s Higher Education Initiative (HEI), he was mainly interested in scoring some per diem to cover the cost of khat, an indigenous plant of the Horn of Africa that is a stimulant and produces a high.
Instead, that session turned out to be a turning point in his life. “The project helped me to graduate safely with a clearly outlined life plan,” he says.
Amanuel, 28 years old, grew up in Bahir Dar, capital of the Amhara region, where he attended Bahir Dar Academy and got good grades. His parents were both in health – his father was a health officer and his mother a midwifery nurse.
But when he went to Arba Minch University in southern Ethiopia, he drifted. The classes were too easy, and he became bored. He started skipping classes and spent most of his time in the city with friends.
“At that time, I was too much a drug addict,” he recalls. “ I smoked too much – weed and cigarettes – and drank too much. I got into almost every risky behavior, and had no goals in my life.”
In 2013, he stumbled on an event at his university organized by HEI. Its goal was to reduce irresponsible sexual behavior, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections by delivering quality information to university students. HEI showed Amanuel that a lack of life skills and planning and drug abuse lead students to risky behavior.
“They had some interesting techniques to embed the messages in the art and the storytelling. They were speaking to my life. I became more and more engaged. I decided that I could give something, and by giving something, I would gain many things.”
“The biggest thing I can say about this program is that it gives youth chances. The project didn’t treat us like victims. If it did, I would be the first one to leave. I was the problem but I was also the solution. HEI gave me that insight.”
Very quickly, Amanuel became one of the stars of HEI at his university. He also became active in TemariNet, DKT’s social networking platform designed for university students, working on the editorial and social media campaign side.
“We realized that university students know many things about SRH (sexual and reproductive health) but they need to be reminded. We know we have to use condoms, but we forget. That reminder should not be just the direct way – use condoms, don’t cheat on your partner, have a life partner. We design games and different approaches to remind people that they need to take care of themselves.”
In 2016, Amanuel graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering. He now works as a self-employed digital media professional. Recently, he worked for the prime minister’s office helping them improve their digital media platforms. He got married in 2020 and he and his wife plan to have their first child in two years. His life is firmly on track.
As of May 2020, HEI had partnered with 28 universities and reached more than 1.2 million students since it started in 2009. In addition, it distributed more than 2.9 million male condoms and 54,000 cycles of oral contraceptives to university students.