Despite considerable progress in the overall global response to the epidemic, HIV among young women ages 15 to 24 in a subset of sub-Saharan African countries remains an urgent problem with AIDS being the leading cause of death for adolescent girls in Eastern and Southern Africa, who account for 74 percent of all new infections. As many as 7,000 new infections a week are occurring among the most vulnerable girls and young women in this region – people who are critical to the future of their countries.
To address this urgent and complex issue, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Johnson & Johnson, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Gilead Sciences, and ViiV Healthcare partnered to create DREAMS.
DREAMS funds a Core Package of evidence-informed approaches that go beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly or indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and lack of education.
The mission of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) is to lead the implementation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment ever by any nation for an international health initiative dedicated to a single disease.
How it all began
ACWICT was declared a DREAMS Innovation challenge winner in 2016 where our solution was selected from more than 800 ideas to infuse new thinking and high impact approaches to empower adolescent girls in Kenya to live HIV free lives.
Our approach led to creation of The Vusha Girls Employability Program. We proposed this initiative to provide a bridge to employment for young women and adolescent girls leading to their financial independence that would in turn decrease their risk for transactional sex and HIV. The young women, once empowered, were expected to support their immediate family members and communities.
ACWICT’s mandate under the DREAMS Initiative was to improve employment prospects and income generating opportunities of 1,000 women aged 19 – 24 years from low income households in Nairobi and Kisumu decreasing their risk for transactional sex work and HIV infection.
Our donors do so much to support our work, and we encourage all of our donors to come see all the work we do in person. Visiting our centres both in Nairobi or Kisumu is a rewarding experience and wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in our work as we do every day as well as interact with the young people we aim to empower.
When the Office of the Global Aids Coordinator (OGAC) requested to a site visit to the various partners implementing the DREAMS Initiative, ACWICT was among those nominated to demonstrate the success of the program and facilitate one-on-one discussions with the girls that have benefitted from the DREAMS Initiative.
In attendance was Ta’Adhmeeka Beamon, OGAC, Maxwell Max, PEPFAR, Kenya and Folami Harris, Program Director, DREAMS IC.
We hosted the delegation at the Youngs Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Kisumu, one of our 6 Vocational Training Centres that we partner with. At the time of the visit 69 girls were in training at YMCA Kisumu taking various courses including Hair Dressing & Beauty Therapy, Electrical & Electronic, Food & Beverage, Motor Vehicle, Fashion & Design, Building & Technology as well as Information Communication Technology.
The first session was facilitated by Boniface Odhiambo, Program Manager at ACWICT who began with the success story of DREAMS Vusha Girls Employability Program and proceeded to demonstrate how the program works as well as its success.
Trezar while still in Secondary School was forced to drop out of school after falling pregnant but due to lack of funds, she was unable to purse any tertiary or to find employment due to her lack of skill. Her fate turned around when she enrolled into DREAMS program to pursue a fully sponsored CISCO ITE Course. After her training, we connected her through our Employer Partner Program to Samasource, an American BPO company, for internship where she received hands-on training and subsequent employment. She is now able to meet her rent her basic needs, care for her child and help her parents financially.
“Our belief is that employment whether formal or informal is the surest way for the young women to achieve their financial independence and shun away from using sex as currency or tolerate sexual infidelity all together and gain pathways out of poverty. A demand-driven employability skills building program will therefore build the knowledge, skills and attitude that the young women need to obtain and participate in productive work reducing new HIV infections among young women,” said Boniface
He then went ahead to demonstrate the program achievements, key learnings and challenges of the program citing drop outs by young mothers as one of the challenges they faced in Program. “There is need to set up baby care services at the training centres to reduce attrition.”
After a short question and answer session, the guests went on a centre tour visiting each of our vocational skills class. They got a chance to see and engage with the students in 6 of Vocation Skills classrooms while interacting with the project beneficiaries who shared how their lives have been transformed by the skills acquired from Vusha Girls Program.
How DREAMS Vusha Employability Program Works
Under the DREAMS Vusha Employability Program, we offer compulsory training for the selected women in Digital Literacy, Entrepreneurship & Financial Literacy as well as Life skills. They then get to choose between 18 Vocational Skills/Trades after which they are connected with placement opportunities in real companies.
Through DREAMS Core partners, we have also worked with program beneficiaries to increase awareness on HIV transmission and risk factors and health care planning.
Since inception of The Vusha Employability Program under the DREAMS Initiative in 2017, ACWICT has trained 1006 beneficiaries of which 92% have successfully completed and graduated, consequently placing 623 of them in jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities accounting for 78% of the enrolled students.
We have also increased the Vocational Training Centres we partner with to deliver the Vusha Curriculum, created opportunities for absorption of our beneficiaries into employment opportunities within the county as well as increased employer partners who provide our beneficiaries internships and employment on completing the program.
Photos from the Beneficiary Roundtable with OGAC Representatives