From Shadows to Shears: The Transformation of Loyce

A young woman's rise from sex worker to a successful beauty salon owner.

In the heart of Kinyinya in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali, lives Loyce Mutesi. As the second of six children in a humble family, her transition from adolescence to adulthood was fraught with challenges. With a father working tirelessly as a chef and a mother devoted to homemaking, Loyce's aspirations for further education were cut short after high school due to family’s financial constraints.

Her peers were able to afford little luxuries that seemed commonplace in Kigali, but she had no money for it, and she was frustrated.


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I had to fend for myself.


She started engaging in transactional and unprotected sex and became pregnant at 19. Faced with rejection from both the baby's father and her own family, Loyce found herself in a precarious situation, with no support or guidance.

Her mother had learned of a free HIV screening, and asked Loyce to take the test. Thanks to PEPFAR, over half of Rwanda’s HIV commodities are covered by the United States and testing as well as medication for HIV/AIDS is free to Rwandans.


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That was good news to me, but I was scared to be tested for HIV because I had been engaging in unprotected sex with different men for so long. I thought, there is no way I’m not HIV positive.


At the clinic, Loyce received much more than just a free test: health workers introduced her to a new world of self-care and protection against HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. It was here that she first learned about PrEP, a preventative medication against HIV, which in her own words was a beacon of hope amidst her fears of contracting the virus.

To her relief, she tested negative for HIV, and was promptly initiated on PrEP, marking the beginning of her journey towards empowerment and advocacy. She was enrolled in the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) program funded thanks to PEPFAR, and started benefitting from many training sessions that improved her life significantly. She learned about sexual and reproductive health, positive parenting, women’s rights, income generating activities and savings. She received education and vocational training as a hairstylist. As her horizons expanded, Loyce felt more empowered, and started sharing more freely about her own journey, hoping to inspire and help other young women like her.

Over the years, Loyce transformed from a beneficiary to a champion of PrEP in her community, debunking myths and mobilizing at-risk girls to embrace PrEP for their safety. Her efforts have seen her bring hope to nine other adolescent girls and young women, guiding them towards a safer path.


The DREAMS program didn't just offer Loyce a chance at safety; it also provided her with a career path. Choosing hairdressing as her trade, Loyce started working at a salon. She earns a living wage and can provide for herself and her child. One day, she says, she wants to own a hair salon and run the business.

From the depths of despair, Loyce's story is a testament to the power of resilience, the importance of accessible health care and education, and the transformative impact of programs like DREAMS. It's a reminder that every woman, regardless of her past, holds the potential for a bright and empowered future.


To learn more, contact Emah Ndengo at

DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) program for adolescent girls and young women is funded thanks to the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. To learn more about the program, please visit

This particular project that helped Loyce is funded by PEPFAR, and implemented through USAID and our partner AEE, a Rwandan organization.