My Dreams are Valid
Nothing has come easy for Carol, 20, a casual laborer and part-time student who lives in Kenya’s largest informal settlement, Kibera. Carol’s struggles began when she was only 5 months old. Her mother left her in the care of her grandmother and never returned. While her age-mates are gently easing their way into adulthood, Carol is in the cut and thrust of it. She has to figure out where her next pay will be coming from, otherwise, there will be nothing to eat and no roof over her head. The pressure of survival can lead to risky behavior. Carol is currently enrolled in DREAMS, a PEPFAR funded program that targets adolescent girls and young women with HIV prevention services.
As a DREAMS implementing partner, LVCT Health facilitates sexual health talks, provides HIV prevention tools and family planning services. The health talks are interchanged with mentorship classes that educate girls and young women on financial training, entrepreneurship, linkage to financial institutions among other trainings. The goal of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women.
Carol was raised in the rural county of Machakos by her grandmother. When she joined high school, she re-united with her father who had re-married. “My stepmother did not want me around. I would often be kicked out of the house and I had to go work on people’s farms for my daily meals,” reveals Carol.
In 2016, the neglect and strife at home took a toll on Carol’s education. Just as Carol prepared to join her third year of high school, her stepmother set all of Carol’s belongings on fire, including school books, uniform and stationery. “I had to leave my father’s house. I decided to come to Nairobi where I had secured a job as a house-help.”
After 3 months the job came to an end and Carol reached out to her aunt who lives in Kibera. “My desire to go back to school was still burning and I asked for help from anyone who would listen to me,” she says. Fortunately, a neighbour heard Carol’s story and linked her to LVCT Health’s DREAMS program that currently supports her high school education.
“When my aunt heard I was going back to school she threw me out of her house. She said there is no way she could support me while her own children did not get a chance to complete high school,” recalls Carol.
Faced with homelessness, LVCT Health offered Carol a part-time job as an office cleaner. The pay was able to set her up in single room shack that is typical of accommodation in Kibera. “My situation was dire. If it wasn’t for DREAMS I would have had to get married to someone, most likely a drunkard,” she says.
Carol’s previous knowledge of HIV was minimal. She is now empowered and aware of the many available options to keep her AIDS-free. Carol says, “The classes have changed my behaviour, I make informed decisions now.”
LVCT Health’s Community Mobilizer, Stanley Ngara, knows too well the heightened HIV risk poverty has on young women living in the slum. When he came across Nescafe’s initiative to empower unemployed youth with coffee business kits, he immediately introduced it to the DREAM girls. Carol was among the ten girls selected for the business kit. LVCT Health supported Carol with the initial Kshs1050 to begin the business and within a week she was able to pay back the loan.
In the year and a half that Carol has been with DREAMS she has experienced remarkable changes. Besides the office cleaning job, Carol now sells coffee to government personel, as well as traders at the market near LVCT Health’s Kibera office.
The project has elevated Carol’s ambitions, being a part of the world’s biggest food and beverage company has changed her fortunes. She no longer has to rely on poorly paid odd jobs around her neighborhood to get by. She is able to earn Kshs. 700 a day. Thanks to the DREAMS financial capability classes, she is able to make a budget and save for the future. ”My mentor emphasizes that the little money I make can still be saved,” states Carol.
“I appreciate DREAMS and Nescafe, I didn’t have hope before, now I see myself going to college from my savings.” concludes a jovial Carol.
By Grace Akatch