It is 6 a.m. in the morning when Lydia Shilongo opens her kiosk in the mining town of Tsumeb in northern Namibia. The 22-year-old woman is selling breakfast to community members on their way to work. A Business Start-Up Kit comprising of a chips fryer and other utensils provided by the Namibian DREAMS program boosted the success of Lydia’s small eatery.

Funded by the United States Government’s PEPFAR program through USAID, the DREAMS initiative aims to prevent HIV infections among vulnerable adolescent girls and young women like Lydia. DREAMS stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe and has been providing support services in Namibia’s Khomas, Oshikoto, and Zambezi regions since 2017. 

The program has just expanded to Oshana and Kavango West which will triple the number of  women supported to 64,000 by the end of this year. Beneficiaries receive social and health care services, HIV prevention education, and financial literacy training. In addition to that, DREAMS also helps these young women find a job or to start their own business - and Lydia’s kiosk is but one example.

An intensive economic strengthening service package is offered to those who meet pre-established hardship and vulnerability criteria. This criteria includes food insecurity, unemployment, having or expecting a child, surviving sexual violence, or engaging in transactional sex. 

The year 2020 proved challenging for businesses all over the world due to lockdowns, travel restrictions, and social distancing - and Namibia has been no exception. However, food-related businesses were regarded as essential services, and many were able to continue operation during the pandemic. For this reason, Project HOPE Namibia, through the U.S.-funded DREAMS program  targeted support to young women entrepreneurs in the food sector. 

Lydia learned about the program from a DREAMS nurse while receiving HIV testing services. She soon joined a Safe Space group with 16 other adolescent girls and young women, who call their group ‘Queen Empowered’. A Safe Space is a place where young women can meet to receive mentorship support, exchange their views, and share personal stories among peers without fear of retribution or stigmatization. 

“I learned a lot in my mentoring sessions because I did not know the way forward in my life journey,” says Lydia. She lives with her unemployed father, two sisters, and a younger brother at the outskirts of Tsumeb. Following the tragic passing of her mother, the only breadwinner at home, in March 2020 the family was on the verge of sinking into extreme poverty. Hence, the DREAMS Business Start-Up Kit came just in time. Lydia and her siblings are familiar with the informal food market, as they have been selling snacks and fruit during their school holidays since childhood to generate some income.  

Now that Lydia has completed high school, she can dedicate all her energy to growing her business. She enjoys cooking food and serving her clients, and she has fun learning the different expressions/names her customers have given her dishes. For example, some customers refer to her chicken feet as ‘Kuvukiland KFC’, named after the nearby informal settlement. On average, Lydia’s shop makes a profit of N$2,200 per month which allows her to contribute to her niece's schooling as well as pay for food and electricity. Lydia’s dream is to own ten restaurants all over Namibia one day and to employ many other vulnerable young women. 

To date, the DREAMS project has helped 123 adolescent girls and young women with Business Start-Up Kits. Food-based businesses were supported with appliances ranging from fryers, microwaves, and fridges to pots, plates, and cutlery - while other small enterprises received nail manicure kits, make-up products, sewing machines, and other equipment.


Lydia Shilongo selling snacks and breakfast at her kiosk in Tsumeb, Namibia