With support from Pact, a Zambian teen returns to school and stays HIV-freeEmily Bell · November 11, 2018
Yvonne Mwanza is used to working with vulnerable young women. She does it every day. When she screened Lisa Simazembwe, 16, to join DREAMS, and learned that she had dropped out of school, Yvonne knew that she had to intervene.
Luckily, in her role as a Connector on the DREAMS School-Based Prevention Intervention, she could do just that. DREAMS is a unique initiative funded by PEPFAR and USAID to support vulnerable adolescent girls and young women to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe. In Zambia, this is implemented by Pact. Yvonne enrolled Lisa, and she completed a curriculum over 15 weeks, covering topics such as communication in relationships, HIV prevention, family planning and financial literacy. At first, she was shy, but by week ten, Lisa started to open up about her recent past.
When Lisa was 13, she had completed seventh grade and was eager to enter grade eight, but that meant paying school fees. Living with her impoverished mother – who earns about $50 a month conducting domestic chores in Livingstone – Lisa took matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, her desperate measures meant risking her own health and safety. Lisa started having sex with men, usually much older than her, in exchange for cash. Some days, she would have sex with up to three men.
When one man started harassing Lisa, her mother found out and made her stop. Lisa was no longer putting herself at risk of HIV infection, emotional trauma and violence, but she wasn't able to attend school.
This is where DREAMS came in. Connectors like Yvonne identify girls who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school because of an inability to afford school fees. Teachers flag girls of concern – girls who, like Lisa, are engaging in risky behavior to continue their education. DREAMS then pays their school tuition and any additional costs required to finish their education.
"I knew that girl just had to be on the list," Yvonne says of Lisa. "She is the first person I put on the list."
Today, Lisa has a smile on her face when she shares her ambition to become a nutritionist – to help people live healthy lives, just as Yvonne has helped her. She has tested negative for HIV, and with the support of DREAMS, she plans to stay that way.
DREAMS is part of the Zambia Community HIV Prevention Project, or Z-CHPP, a five-year USAID cooperative agreement being implemented by Pact and sub-partners to reduce new HIV infections in Zambia. Since Z-CHPP's launch in 2015, more than 200,000 girls have graduated from DREAMS.