Across Kenya, PEPFAR’s DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) program is helping adolescents and young women lead healthy, HIV-free and safe lives. One such girl is Emily Achieng’ Odhiambo, who joined the program in 2020 when LVCT Health began implementing the life-changing intervention in West Kasipul Ward, Homa Bay County.
Growing up in a polygamous family and losing her dad at a tender age, she was disadvantaged. Her sickly mother depended on menial jobs to fend for the family. Many times, they went without food due to other competing necessities. She was on the verge of throwing in the towel when a flicker of hope illuminated her life. DREAMS program came to her rescue.
From a hopeless and vulnerable girl, Emily is now an empowered young woman ambassador. She advocates for the interests of other DREAMS adolescent girls and young women at national and international forums. The initiative empowers vulnerable adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices and remain HIV-free.
Her leadership skills started showing much earlier at the LVCT Health established “safe space”. She was elected as a safe space ambassador and later recruited to serve as an office assistant for the DREAMS office.
The safe spaces provide a haven for cohorts of girls to be mentored on life skills, encouraged to get tested for HIV, and educated on the risk of HIV infection. From a monthly stipend, Emily can now afford to meet her personal effects without depending on anyone. She is also supporting her mother to cater for family expenses.
“I am now an empowered DREAMS girl,” she says, showcasing an HIV Testing and Counseling Course certificate from LVCT Training Institute that she paid for from her savings thanks to financial literacy skills she acquired at the program’s safe space.
As a DREAMS ambassador, Emily sits on the Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Work Improvement Team (WIT) in the County, where she ensures that decisions made on those platforms serve the needs of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW).
Her courage and dedication to inspiring other girls to live HIV-free and safe lives have seen her present at national and global forums. During the UN Women Global Leadership and Mentorship Training, dubbed ‘Investing in Adolescent Girls and Young Women’s Leadership and Voice in the HIV Response’, Emily shared her experience as a DREAMS girl. She called for action among global leaders to increase the engagement of adolescent girls and young women in HIV response.
The Reducing HIV in Adolescents and Youth” (RHAY) conference held in Kenya also provided an opportunity to connect with other adolescent girls and young women.
“We need to have more “safe spaces” for girls and young women to meaningfully share life experiences, mentor each other and acquire the financial literacy skills to spur them to growth,” said Emily.
Through the DREAMS program, Emily is now a proud entrepreneur, running a vibrant second-hand cloth business and contributing to her family’s daily needs, including supporting other DREAMS girls’ dream again. She looks into the future with great ambition, and one of her greatest desires is to sit in forums that design policies that respond to the needs of both boys and girls in the community.
LVCT Health implements the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC in Kenya) DREAMS initiative to empower vulnerable adolescent girls and young women with the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices and remain HIV-free.
Story by Collins Kayubs