DREAMS Empowers Young Women to Inspire New Dreams

Tuesday, August 11, 2020
"DREAMS changed my life. I am a determined, resilient and empowered young woman." -- Ashley

“I feel empowered. I hope to help other girls going through similar situations to take charge and control of their lives,” explains Ashley Kaluki.  However, that is not where her story started.

Ashley spent her teenage years living hand-to-mouth in Kenya's coastal region. Searching for a better life, her father moved the family to an informal settlement in Mombasa County. “Frequently we had no meals or basic necessities,” explained Ashley. “We lived a miserable life.” Due to lack of education, he took menial jobs. With most of his income spent on family needs, education for Ashley and her siblings was not possible.

Her life changed when she joined the United States Government’s Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) program. 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.

Through mentorship programs, Ashley and other youths completed a 13-week curriculum learning about sexual reproductive health, HIV prevention, family planning, financial literacy, and communication skills in relationships. With basic training in tourism and hospitality, Ashley worked as an intern at a Mombasa Hotel where she was promoted as a storekeeper.  

DREAMS build on USAID’s decades of experience, empowering young women and advancing gender equality across sectors of global health, education, and economic growth. The Initiative employs a variety of approaches to provide economic support to adolescent girls and young women. This includes training in financial literacy to develop a culture of saving, entrepreneurship training to provide skills to start and run small enterprise, vocational skills training for those who are eligible and provision of business start-up kits. Those who choose to attend a vocational skills training are supported in identification of internship and job opportunities and Ashley is one of them.

More than 1800 received entrepreneurship and vocational training, 40 linked to internship while 35 linked to employment. Twenty-five (25) initiated their own businesses, 22 opened businesses after collaborating to form two groups and 78 started businesses after receiving business start-up kits. Ninety-two (92) have since opened bank accounts and more than 180 continue to participate in economic empowerment activities through the Youth Savings and Loans Associations.

“Am a proud DREAMS girl,” she says. “I am proud that I can now contribute to my sibling’s education costs and also support both old and new DREAM girls.”

Ashley is still an active DREAMS member. She uses her experience to mentor and motivate young girls and women on gender equality, education, health, and economic growth. She is also chairwoman of four groups (55 participants) where she advises them on group registration. She meets with the groups and her mentees during her free time and communicates with them on WhatsUp group chats when unavailable for meetings.

The DREAMS initiative is made possible by the American people through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) within USAID’s Afya Pwani (health in the coastal region) project. Ashley represents 250,000 adolescent girls and young women in Kenya whose lives have been transformed through the initiative.

Last updated: September 23, 2020

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