For a young mother in Namibia, a path to empowerment through DREAMS

June 21, 2023
Adolescent girls and young women work toward building a healthy, resilient future through DREAMS. Photo credit: Brian Clark/Pact

Emily was 15 years old when she first became a mother and says that for many years, “life was not easy.” She is now 23 years old and lives in Sauyemwa, an informal settlement located in Rundu, northern Namibia. Emily has survived by selling goods to government pensioners, but the income is not reliable. She has endured regular violence from her boyfriend who she relies on for financial support, making it difficult to leave him.

In February 2021, Emily heard about the ACHIEVE DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) program from a community care worker while visiting a local clinic. The DREAMS program, funded by PEPFAR through USAID in Namibia, is a multi-sectoral collaborative response that seeks to reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women.

At first, Emily was hesitant to join the program. “I thought it would be a waste of my time,” she said. After thinking about it carefully, Emily enrolled, and within four weeks of attending regular DREAMS Safe Space sessions at the Nkarapamwe Clinic, she understood that participation in DREAMS was a life-changing decision. “Before DREAMS, I didn’t know about my rights and responsibilities in a relationship, or about HIV prevention and GBV [gender-based violence] knowledge,” she said.

“Before DREAMS, I didn’t know about my rights and responsibilities in a relationship, or about HIV prevention and GBV [gender-based violence] knowledge.”

Through DREAMS, Emily connected with a network of young women in her community and enjoyed support from a DREAMS mentor. She began using PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, to stay HIV-free, and family planning while receiving post-GBV clinical care and economic strengthening services. Emily also went through the Afla–youth curriculum and Siyakha, which focus on financial literacy, entrepreneurship skills and preparing young women for future employment. It took Emily eight months to complete the DREAMS primary package with additional services. After completion, she was hired by a local partner, Catholic Aids Action, under ACHIEVE/DREAMS, as a Rundu community care worker in October 2021.

Emily is proud of her work helping to empower girls and young women to change their lives the way she changed hers. For the first time in her life, she has financial stability and can support her son, siblings and mother, who live in a nearby village, which she says makes her feel “proud and relieved.” Participating in DREAMS motivated Emily to leave her violent relationship and now she and her child live a stable, violence-free life.