Anne Atieno, a 24 year old girl married with two daughters and who currently lives in Kibagare was born to a large family of 13 children, 10 of whom are dead under unclear circumstances. She has a history of early marriage, abuse and dropped out of school in class 8 due to lack of school fees. She is currently a DREAMS mentor and in her 6th month of tailoring vocational training and due to graduate in 5 months. Hers is an inspiring story of a young woman who fought the odds that were heavily stacked against her to achieve her dreams.
At a young age, Anne moved to Nairobi in search of a source of livelihood as her father did not provide for her and her siblings. Her mother did not have enough to meet all their needs. While Anne was still settling into her new job of cooking for masons in Nairobi, her uncle back in the village had been busy finding her a husband. In no time, she was married off and soon after, at the age of 19 years, she got pregnant with her first born daughter. “This threw me off balance because I was barely a child myself. I did not know what to do with this being I was carrying inside me. When I most desperately wished and needed the support of my husband is when he was most unavailable. He drew further and further away from me with each passing day when I broke the news of the pregnancy to him. He no longer came home early and often times spent the night away. Whenever I questioned him, he would physically assault me and tell me that it was not in my place to ask him such questions as he was the head of the family and provided everything for us and therefor needed to work both day and night. This left me feeling worthless. Eventually I had had enough of it and left to go back home to my parents. Shortly thereafter, news reached me that he had remarried and was living with someone’s wife and two children. This was very disheartening but it did not last long as he later sent the woman away. He then came to my home to ‘beg” my parents to allow me to go back to his house which I eventually did,” she narrates.
Going back to her marital home turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Anne as she was identified by the LVCT Health DREAMS team in Kibagare one afternoon as she basked in the sun by the roadside. “I welcomed the LVCT team to my house and that was the beginning of a new life for me. They ran me through a number of questions and told me that I met the criteria for enrollment into the DREAMS program. They explained to me that I was vulnerable and at high risk of contracting HIV especially because of the domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV) I had experienced. I shortly after started classes and my life has since never been the same again. Through DREAMS, I have learnt everything I need to know; HIV education, PrEP and how to protect myself from contracting HIV, Family Planning and even how to keep a healthy family through the family matters program. “Anne however says that the most life changing experience for her was the financial capability and management course and tailoring vocational training. These she narrates, gave her keys to a new life.
The DREAMS program offers vulnerable girls a variety of services/packages and commodities to make their lives easier by helping them pick up their pieces. Girls are provided with sanitary towels and under wears to start with. The girls enrolled into DREAMS programme are taught skills around various forms of artwork. Various vocational trainings are also offered to the girls depending on their interests. Among these options are, tailoring, bakery, catering and hairdressing. A wide range of life skills packages are offered to the different age groups enrolled; including Healthy Choices for a better future (10-14 years), My Health My Choice (15-17 years), Respect K (15-24 years), Sister to Sister (15-24years) and Shuga (18-24years). Education subsidies are provided for those girls interested in going back to school; while some opt for incoming generating activities and are provided with business startup kits. They are also supported and encouraged to sell their products. Mentorship classes from peers are also offered to the girls as well as social asset building packages where girls are provided with safe spaces that they use for their meetings to discuss the various issues they are facing as well as have fun together. Parents and Guardians are also taken through a package known as Family Matters that equips them with skills and knowledge on how parenting skills on various age groups and the need to be empathetic.
Anne opted for vocational training in tailoring which had been her passion for a long time. She also needed to earn a living at the soonest possible opportunity to sustain her life as well as that of her daughters. Due to the degree of her susceptibility to various forms of vulnerability, she was signed up for cash transfer, which allowed her to receive a set amount of money every two months. She explains that she used the knowledge that she had acquired from the financial capability and management course offered by the DREAMS program to save as much money as possible in the bank account that she had opened. Anne was also chosen and trained as a mentor due to her expressive and social nature and her passion to help other girls. She managed to save Kshs. 18000 which she used to buy a sewing machine. This had been her greatest dream.
“This money also enabled me to contribute to the running of the house; buying food, sharing in paying rent, and school fees for the children. I now also give my husband some money when he has none. This financial empowerment has earned me my husband’s respect and he now perceives me as an partner as opposed to a subordinate. As a beneficiary of the DREAMS program, I benefitted from the PrEP program which educated me on how I could take a daily ARV pill to protect myself from contracting HIV from the several extra marital affairs my husband had been having. The knowledge I had gained also enabled me to discuss with my husband, the various HIV risks that we were exposed to as a couple and the measures we could take together. All this restored normalcy to my marriage as he no longer physically or verbally abused me. I now enjoy my marriage more than I have ever done before, “ she uttered with a pleasant smile across her face.
Anne is evidently very enthusiastic about her graduation from the tailoring school.When I asked her why she is so excited about it, she quickly quipped, “I cannot wait to open my own workshop with many sewing machines from where I can mentor and employ other girls to make a living for themselves without having to depend on anyone, as this comes at a very high cost. I am deeply passionate about uplifting the lives of other girls just like mine has been uplifted.”
Anne hopes that LVCT Health, which is one of the DREAMS programme implementing partners can reach out to as many more girls as possible to give them a second chance at achieving their dreams just as it has been the case with her. She is saving for her daughters’ education, to ensure that they attend school to the highest possible level. “I never want to have my girls depend on anyone but themselves,” she remarks.
As Anne hurriedly stood up to go and drop off lunch at her daughter’s school, the resounding message from her story is that true financial empowerment is a girl’s greatest security.
By, Lynda Keeru