Pheladi is breaking barriers and gender norms through the USAID-led DREAMS program.

In Eswatini, 58 percent of young people are unemployed and job opportunities for young women are scarce. Additionally, adolescent girls and young women in Eswatini face a higher risk of HIV infection due to factors like social isolation, poverty, discrimination, orphanhood, gender-based violence, and inadequate schooling.

Without a steady stream of income, young women in Eswatini are more at risk for engaging in transactional sex and transactional relationships for financial stability which can lead to gender-based violence, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies. 

The DREAMS program (the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) Program funded through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and led by USAID) aims to change the status quo for young women. DREAMS is a youth-oriented, public-private partnership designed to reduce the transmission of HIV in 16 countries while protecting, empowering, and investing in adolescent girls and young women. Young women and girls that are part of the DREAMS program regularly attend sessions where they learn about HIV prevention, gender-based violence, and financial independence. 

Pheladi, twenty-three years old, saw many of the young women in her community engage in relationships with older men because they had no other means to make money. Pheladi knew she wanted to secure financial independence for herself on her own terms, but after graduating high school she felt stuck without job prospects or opportunities - a common experience for youth in Eswatini. The Eswatini National Skills Audit report revealed that high school graduates remain unemployed for more than 10 years. 

USAID local partner, Young Heroes, implements the DREAMS program in five constituencies in Eswatini and is helping Pheladi and other young women to gain new skills, start their own small businesses, and learn life-changing financial management strategies.

Through the DREAMS program, Pheladi was connected with a mentor who worked with Pheladi to plan for her future. With the support of the DREAMS program and Young Heroes, Pheladi decided to learn the skills for a career in construction (USAID covered the cost of Pheladi’s training). Construction is a lucrative choice in Eswatini because of the many job opportunities, however, Pheladi was the only woman in her class. “I believed in myself that I could learn the skills for construction. I don’t care what society thinks about the kind of work women should or should not do,” she says.

After successfully completing her 12 months of courses to learn the necessary skills for construction, Pheladi was hired for a job building a supermarket in her community and is now able to support herself financially. 

“Now that I am financially independent, I make my own choices,” she says.

Pheladi at work

After Pheladi’s success in construction, 14 other young women joined the technical course to learn construction skills - all funded through the USAID DREAMS program. 

Pheladi says, “I tell the other young women that we are taking up space and we can do anything that we put our minds to because we are strong.” 

The project that Young Heroes implements on behalf of USAID is named Phila Unotse (Be Healthy, Economically Stable and Informed), which aims to “Prevent new HIV infections and reduce vulnerability among orphans and vulnerable children and adolescent girls and young women in Eswatini''.  The project  increases the capacity of families and communities to support orphans and vulnerable children and adolescent girls and young women and increase the uptake of critical services including HIV services, family planning services, and gender-based violence services. 




Dreams Success Story for Eswatini
Pheladi is breaking barriers and gender norms through the USAID led DREAMS program
Southern Africa Regional Stories