“…we are better equipped to create awareness, improve access, and foster adherence to PrEP amongst at-risk youths…”

Team VITA comprises five young amazing individuals with diverse skills and interests. First, there is Simpa Lawal. Simpa is a multi-talented guy, a 4th-year medical student at the University of Ibadan (UI). He is a writer par excellence, an orator, and interestingly, a chorister. He’s the funny one who gets everyone laughing and then brings us right back to the job because he is also that serious. Next, is Alex Netufo, the second man in the group, who is also a 4th-year medical student at UI, an award-winning writer, and a volunteer. Alex is an easy person to work with, he has helped lubricate the team’s friction from time to time. We also have Mary Funmilayo Oni – Team VITA’s star girl. Mary is a 3rd-year pharmacy student at UI, an innovator, entrepreneur, and key ideator. Mary always brings the energy. There is also Bashirudeen Opeyemi (fondly called Bash), who is our team’s tech boss. He’s a 5th-year pharmacy student at UI. He has enabled our team ‘create magic’ especially in the technology part of our innovation. Then there’s me, Nneka Amakom. I am Alex’s and Simpa’s coursemate at UI. I am the team lead (mostly by formality because we are all leaders in our group, and each of us played key roles to bring our team to the finish point). I am also a volunteer and entrepreneur.

Team VITA

Applying for the 4YBY Designathon 2022 was a decision that was already made from the point of the first competition on HIV self-testing. We were basically on the lookout for the next competition, “PrEP4Youth,” and when it came out, we jumped on it. Getting selected as one of the top fifteen teams out of about 50 applications for the designathon (after an almost last-minute application) was surprising and also exciting. The designathon experience was nothing short of amazing. We learnt so many new things about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), had fun while doing it, and also made new friends.

Fast forward to the innovation bootcamp: being one of the top 7 teams to qualify for this stage was a huge feat because looking back at the designathon, a lot of teams had really amazing ideas, and you could indeed tell that everyone put in the work. For the four weeks of the bootcamp, we learnt so much; at some point, it literally felt like our heads would blow from the wealth of information and exercises we were taking part in. We had key players from various industries actually interact with us and our team was indeed impacted. We were lucky to work with Lana Promise as our team’s facilitator. The ride was not entirely smooth, but we are super proud and grateful to have made it to the finish line and for the opportunity to implement. Overall, it was an awesome experience. It was really great spending four weeks in an excellent accommodation with great food and not having to worry about electricity mood swings.

But beyond all of that, the bootcamp was a converging point for the team and a watershed experience for us as individuals—a converging point as we got to put heads together as a team and pool resources together in pursuit of a common goal and a watershed moment for us as individuals as the knowledge and experience we garnered broadened our outlook and shed light on many roads hitherto not trodden. Summarily, for the most part, we grew as a team and as individuals. Networking across teams was another highlight of the bootcamp; getting to meet other highly intelligent and driven young people was refreshing and stimulating.

The innovation bootcamp was quite rigorous; things moved at breakneck speed, and the work kept stacking up as the days went by. In spite of this, we didn’t want the experience to end, thanks to the amazing 4 Youth By Youth Team, who made every aspect worthwhile in every sense. Professor Ezechi made it a priority to constantly douse the tension by encouraging everyone to have fun and get immersed in the learning and fun. You’d do a lot of work and seamlessly follow many instructions without even realising it, thanks to Chisom’s pleasant demeanour and welcoming smile. Dr. Titi’s motherly disposition made the bootcamp an actual home away from home. We can as well write a whole article on our facilitator, Lana Promise, a wonderful young man who makes intelligence and resourcefulness look so easy. At some point, Lana was the key trope that kept the team in shape, quite frankly. While we cannot acknowledge every one individually, we must stress that the entire 4 Youth By Youth Team is indeed a magical combination of different epochs of individuals who bring out the best in young people.

Overall, the organizers and facilitators were exceptional. We enjoyed relating in such close quarters with the distinguished personalities as they were very welcoming and accommodating. One thing we would have changed if we could was getting the links to the CITI courses before the commencement of the bootcamp to reduce the workload during the period of the bootcamp. 4 Youth By Youth Innovation Bootcamp 2022 was a beautiful experience we all enjoyed as a team. At a point, it was not about competing for the top place anymore but being able to learn, relearn, and unlearn certain things and meet and network with fellow participants and facilitators. As a team, we got to appreciate the beauty of being able to apply human-centered design thinking to solving crucial problems and also bonded together while at it.

Looking forward—implementation, this is honestly the scary part, because everyone can create plans, and some can pitch it, but not everyone can put these plans into action. But one thing we would definitely be doing in Team VITA is starting and progressing steadily. We really believe that our ideas can make an impact in the health space to contribute positively to the fight against HIV, and we will be putting in the work to bring it to life. The 4YBY funding for implementation will also go a long way to make this happen. Going through the designathon and the bootcamp were instrumental in bringing us up to this phase of implementation. We get to put the knowledge imparted into action. In as much as the fieldwork scares us, we are also looking forward to it because we are better equipped to create awareness, improve access, and foster adherence to PrEP amongst at-risk youths, especially in Ibadan North, Oyo State where we would be carrying out our project.

Future participants, please ensure you apply for next year’s designathon and participate wholeheartedly. And as Professor Oliver Ezechi would say, “Enjoy the program. Enjoy yourself. Do not get too rigid with yourself, your teammates, and, of course, others at the designathon/bootcamp because of the prize money.”

We hope to see you all (future contestants) at the top. ❤️

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