DREAMS girls form Kibagare having fun during an Open forum held St. Anthony in Kibagare
“I have seen girls transformed from desperation to confident and hopeful individuals living an independent life. When we started working in this community there were so many cases of girls being lured to sex work, girls would be sexually abused and such cases would go unreported due to fear.” Remembers Christabel Oduor, the DREAMS site in charge at Kibagare slum in Westlands, Nairobi.
Kibagare is one of the four informal settlements in Nairobi where LVCT Health offers a range of services aimed at helping adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) 10-24 years live a HIV free life. Located in Kitusuru Location, Kibagare village was established in 1972 by coffee plantation workers, who had laboured on the colonial farm now known as Loresho estate. Before leaving, the farm owners sold the land to private individuals who did not need the service of the workers. The slum has since grown and is estimated to be home to more than 15,000 people.
“The residents have survived a number of evictions both by private individuals and the government, leading to desperation and subsequent poverty. As a result, most men ended up in crime and alcoholism while the young girls would engage in early sex work for their livelihood, further exposing them to HIV infection.” Stated Christabel
In 2015 after the introduction of the PEPFAR funded DREAMS project, LVCT Health scaled up their work in Kibagare particularly targeting AGYW who had a high HIV burden. The DREAMS project aims at helping girls become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) women.
“When we started implementing DREAMS, we set out to reach the AGYW in Kibagare, we held meetings with village elders, local administration, religious leaders, youth leaders, health and education partners. These meetings helped us share with the community the benefit that the girls would get from the project and how we would involve them in the implementation of the project.
We collected household level data, which helped us understand the characteristics of AGYW in Kibagare slum. Other factors that we considered were the vulnerability of adolescent girls and young women, those orphaned or from single parent families and those who had dropped out of school.” Recalls Christabel.
The services offered at the facility include social asset building, which involves putting girls into groups according to their different ages, marital and education status. These groups then meet at different times, where they discuss different topics aimed at empowering them with life skills and HIV, sexual and reproductive health information.
“Due to the poor economic situation at Kibagare, many girls have dropped out of school mostly due to lack of school fees and early pregnancies. The DREAMS project offers education support to 1039 girls who are at different levels of their education while another 92 have been supported for vocational training courses and 114 given business start-up capital.”
“The community has been supportive in the implementation of the project. Parents are always available when we need them while the local administration is always at hand to attend our meetings and offer guidance to the AGYW. However we still have parents who prefer receiving money than having their girls go back to school, a challenge we continue to address.” Concludes Christabel
As at June 2018, the Kibagare DREAMS site had enrolled 2,329 adolescent girls and young women who are benefitting through a core package of services that go beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk. These services are aimed at reducing practices that expose them to HIV infection.
By Alfred Itunga