Once a month, in a cozy home in Capitol Heights, MD, two groups of teen girls gather to tell secrets. These aren’t always the typical giggly secrets of adolescence. They are deep, hurtful secrets about being raped, about watching parents use drugs, about fear of AIDS, prison and death. Eight years ago, Fatoumata Thiam, a mental health professional, started DAARA (Developing AIDS & Addiction Response Alternatives) for women and familiy members struggling with the issues related to AIDS and drug addiction.
A few years ago, it became clear to Thiam that teen girls in these families needed their own safe place where they could share their anger, fear, and shame. So SECRETS (Sisters Empowered Can Redefine Events Through Sharing) was formed. SECRETS received a leadership award from The Women’s Foundation to pay for materials and training for peer counselors, which Thiam says was invaluable for the girls. “The girls are learning to help each other. Through very real conversation and role play, they explore choices they can exercise in their situations. They are learning to redefine very serious situations, stop blaming themselves, and find something positive to focus on.”