When Camira Katuta Chalwe was young, she lost both of her parents to an unspecified illness and was sent to live with her uncle and aunt. Her childhood was characterized by ill health and interrupted education.
In 2016, at age 16, Camira was invited to join DREAMS. Funded by PEPFAR as part of its global effort to end HIV and AIDS, DREAMS empowers vulnerable adolescent girls and young women to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe. Pact implements DREAMS in Zambia as part of the Zambia Community HIV Prevention Project, funded by USAID.
Along with other girls her age, and under the guidance of a qualified mentor, Camira completed the 13-week DREAMS curriculum that covered topics including communication in relationships, HIV prevention, family planning and financial literacy. For the first time, Camira learned about HIV and AIDS in depth, including modes of transmission and prevention methods. Her DREAMS mentor, Christabel, explained why it is important for everyone to know their HIV status.
Considering her own poor health and the mystery surrounding the death of her parents, Camira decided she wanted to be tested. With her uncle and aunt's consent, she was. She learned she was HIV-positive. Christabel immediately escorted Camira to the nearest health center so she could begin antiretroviral therapy, which allows people who are HIV-positive to live long, healthy lives.
Camira began to feel better, but her resolve continued to be tested. Her uncle died, and soon her remaining family was unable to help her pay her school fees. Instead of dropping out, she again turned to her DREAM mentor. Camira's situation meant that she was eligible to be enrolled in the DREAMS School-Based Prevention Intervention component, which targets girls who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school because of an inability to cover the cost. The program now covers Camira's tuition as well as school supplies.
“I'll always be grateful to DREAMS for making me the person I am today," Camira says.
"I never thought I’d go back to school, but DREAMS has made it possible, and it made me realize that there's so much more I can do with my life, even if I'm HIV-positive.”
DREAMS is part of the Zambia Community HIV Prevention Project, a five-year USAID cooperative agreement being implemented by Pact and sub-partners to reduce new HIV infections in Zambia. Since its launch in Zambia in 2015, more than 250,000 girls have graduated from DREAMS.
Lead image: Camira Katuta Chalwe at the DREAMS center in N’Changa, in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province.