Why I became an ACHIEVE DREAMS ambassador
Aisha, from Kicukiro District, Rwanda, is a survivor of gender-based violence. Having experienced abuse as a child, she accepted it as a normal way of life. That was until she discovered DREAMS, meaning Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS Free, Mentored and Safe, which changed her outlook on life.
In 2014, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) launched DREAMS, which provides a package of interventions with proven effectiveness to address factors that make adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and gender-based violence.
In its progress toward reaching epidemic control among AGYW, the USAID-funded Adolescents and Children HIV Incidence Reduction, Empowerment and Virus Elimination project, or ACHIEVE, served nearly 53,000 AGYW in 2021 in three countries: Namibia, Rwanda and South Sudan. That number is projected to increase to approximately 125,000 in 2022 as ACHIEVE embarks on DREAMS work in a large part of Tanzania.
For young women like Aisha, the DREAMS program has helped reimagine what’s possible in her native Rwanda. “When I enrolled in DREAMS as a beneficiary under USAID-funded Twiyubake and joined safe space education sessions, my life purpose changed,” said Aisha. “I became aware that I can make difference either in my life or in other girls’ lives.”
Through girls-only ‘safe space’ education sessions, Aisha was able to build supportive social networks with other AGYW and learn about HIV and violence prevention. She hoped she could do the same for other AGYW. When she came across the opportunity to apply to become a DREAMS Ambassador for ACHIEVE’s DREAMS program, she didn’t think twice. For Aisha, it was a dream come true to be able to give back to her community and fellow AGYW. “Although it involves a lot of responsibilities, I love and enjoy advocating for AGYW challenges,” said Aisha.
Today, in her role as a DREAMS Ambassador, Aisha supports AGYW in gaining access to sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence response services within their communities. She also serves as a mentor to other AGYW enrolled in the DREAMS program to empower them to adopt healthy behaviors and practices. By bringing AGYW together through safe spaces, “DREAMS allows us to speak boldly, share common challenges and success stories, and learn from each other,” said Aisha. “This helps AGYW to be free and plan for a bright future guided by same-age mentors, which makes it easier for us to communicate and understand each other.”
“DREAMS allows us to speak boldly, share common challenges and success stories, and learn from each other."
Through DREAMS, Aisha continues to experience significant personal growth. “I have gained knowledge and skills on different topics which has made me more comfortable speaking to the public during meetings and international conferences,” said Aisha. “This has also presented an opportunity for me to engage with the government and support AGYW to overcome vulnerability issues through saving activities, sexual reproductive education, coaching and support through safe spaces.”
There are many stories on the profound impact that DREAMS interventions have had on the lives of AGYW. Aisha’s story is just one of them and exemplifies why we must keep supporting AGYW. Through increased awareness and evidence-based strategies aimed at preventing gender-based violence and reducing HIV-infections, we can help AGYW reach their full potential and empower them to make actionable change in their lives.