‘What I Dream About’
Project HOPE's DREAMS program is helping young women in Namibia focus on a future free from HIV and instead imagine a future of possibility.
HIV disproportionately impacts young women in Namibia, with their incidence rates being several times higher than those for men. Project HOPE’s DREAMS program is helping to change that narrative, empowering young women to protect themselves and pursue a future free of HIV/AIDS, while also teaching job skills that promote economic independence.
DREAMS has helped tens of thousands of girls and young women launch their own businesses, protect their communities from COVID-19, and graduate as DREAMS ambassadors to mentor other girls across the country.
We asked four young women in the program to share the challenges girls in Namibia face, their biggest goals for the future, and how DREAMS has helped them reimagine what’s possible.
My name is Adelaide, and I am 20 years old. I live in a beautiful country called Namibia, in a town known as Tsumeb, in Oshikoto Region. I have been participating in DREAMS for three years.
I attend a safe space called “Queen Empowered’’ and take part in our VSL (Village Savings and Loans) group. As a DREAMS Ambassador, I market the program to the community and support my peers. In addition, I advocate for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxsis) and empower my peers by giving them health education.
Being a young adult in Namibia is challenging because of poverty. Poverty feels like a trap — it is a big milestone to overcome, as there is no financial support to further your studies, and with poverty comes starvation. There is not much one can do with an empty stomach. Limited employment opportunities after graduation are another difficulty, as graduates are often forced to remain at home despite their qualifications.
I look forward to the future because of the big dreams I have of who I can become.
There are quite a few challenges facing girls in particular, including alcohol abuse, gender-based violence (emotional, physical, and sexual), and transactional sex, which leads to unplanned pregnancy, stigma, and peer pressure. Young women are nervous, because we feel like there is no way out of poverty and it requires further studies after completing grade 12. In addition, stigma from peers holds us back from starting our own businesses, because friends have the negative mindset that people who are vendors have no future.
Being a DREAMS girl, I have been surrounded with a lot of positivity. I don’t feel bad about where I come from anymore, because I now have my emotional resilience and financial intelligence. I am mentored and empowered. All these things have given me a healthy mind to work with. DREAMS also made one of my dreams a reality, as DREAMS sponsored my baking business and today I am a baker. In the future, I envision myself as a biochemist, CEO, confectionary baker, author, and real estate investor. I also visualize myself as a wife and a mother to two children.
I look forward to the future because of the big dreams I have of who I can become. I am looking forward to giving back to the community, not out of an aspiration to earn, but to make a difference. Moreover, I look forward to traveling the world to meet people, see different lifestyles, cultures, ideas, animals, and landscapes.
I want people to know that they should not suffer alone, but speak out — that people should push themselves, and support will come their way. The first step to recovery is to seek help.
My name is Linna, and I am 23 years old. I live in Katima Mulilo, Zambezi Region. I joined DREAMS in 2018 and am still an active DREAMS beneficiary.
What I would like people to know about being a young person in Namibia today is that life is not easy for many reasons. One reason is the lack of support we get from parents — we aren’t able to express our feelings to them because of traditional beliefs. As a young lady, there is a particular lack of support if you want to study a male-dominated career. They prefer you study what they want, not what you want to study.
Young women in Namibia are excited about the future, but sometimes they are discouraged because of the different problems they are facing in life, and sometimes they are really afraid of becoming who they really want to be. Sometimes they lose focus on their goals, so this really discourages most of them and they remain nervous about it.
DREAMS has been the light to my life. Since I joined DREAMS, I became a person who is really determined about reaching my goals. But not only that — I also became very resilient. I know in life there are ups and downs, but I know I will still make it through. DREAMS empowered me to be who I am today, and I am really proud of being a DREAMS beneficiary.
Now, when I think about the future, I get very excited. I see myself as a successful, phenomenal young lady in the next three years to come. A lady of substance. I see myself having my own house, my own car, and being a role model to others. What I am looking forward to is having my own charity home for street kids and other vulnerable children. I know the life of growing up without a mother and father, and I know how it is to lack parental support, so I would really love to be a blessing to so many out there.
I especially want all young mothers out there to know: You are special, and you can still make it. Keep pushing, and remember no matter how dark it gets, the sun will rise and we shall try again.
My name is Namasiku, and I am 22 years old. I currently live in the Kongola area, in Zambezi Region. I joined the DREAMS Program in March 2020.
In the program, we usually go to the safe space, where girls can come together and talk openly without judgment or criticism. We learn about gender-based violence, HIV, and sexual reproductive health, which is facilitated by a community care worker. We also receive clinical services like HIV testing and family planning resources from the DREAMS nurse.
Being a young person in Namibia today means that you have to be strong, self-confident, and have high self-esteem, because it can be justifiably said that this age is the most difficult part of life. The most common challenge at this phase of life is a lack of emotional support from caregivers. It’s not uncommon for young people to experience depression for various reasons, like relationship issues for example. According to our cultural norms, it is believed that you cannot talk about such issues with your parents, with the belief being that it is inappropriate or disrespectful to them. This can ultimately leave a person feeling emotionally and mentally unfit, and even result in suicide.
Working toward something is not easy — there are many challenges that you can encounter — but DREAMS shaped me into a resilient person who is able to bounce back and overcome my challenges.
One of the challenges facing girls in particular is a lack of career guidance. For example, some girls attend school for the sake of just going to school without having any future plans or picture in mind of what they want to become after completing their studies. Such behavior may lead to feeling like a failure, which can lead to some very low points and even early marriages.
The DREAMS program became an eye-opener in my life. Through DREAMS, I discovered that in life you have to set specific goals, then, after setting those goals, you must not sit back and relax but come up with a plan on how to achieve your goals. This includes commitment, determination, and perseverance. Working toward something is not easy — there are many challenges that you can encounter — but DREAMS shaped me into a resilient person who is able to bounce back and overcome my challenges.
Today’s youth are more interested in their desires and less in their studies. Those in the DREAMS program, however, seem to be excited about the future because DREAMS has enlightened them and motivated them to fully achieve their potential.
When I dream about the future, I imagine myself as an independent young lady. I see myself being a math and science teacher, and also being a role model to the learners — especially girls, so that they really get to understand that everything is possible through hard work. I want to motivate and help them with science subjects so that they obtain excellent results.
In the short-term, I am just working on myself so that I can become an expert in my career field and also reach a leadership position. When I was doing my final year at university, I studied school leadership and management, and I felt like I was made to lead and motivate others. Therefore, I will work hard in order to accomplish my plans.
My name is Saara, and I am 23 years old. I have been participating in DREAMS for a year and six months now.
As a DREAMS girl, I learn from my mentors who are community care workers. They mentor us on decision-making in sexual relationships — as we know that poor decisions in relationships can lead to HIV transmission — as well as financial literacy, which prepares us to save and spend money wisely. Because of the financial literacy training, I have joined the village saving and loans group for saving money.
As a young person in Namibia, we are faced with a lot of challenges. We are at risk of starting families at an early age while pursuing our studies, which is why DREAMS educates sexually active and non-sexually active girls alike on the use of contraceptives so that they can finish their studies on time, get a job, and then start families. Young girls are also being abused and are afraid to speak up and seek help. DREAMS has become our shoulder to lean on when it comes to gender-based violence, and it is really saving lives.
I think young women are discouraged because they still feel afraid of speaking up. They feel that because they are women, they cannot do what men can do … because society made them believe that. But with DREAMS, they change their attitude and the future looks promising to them.
The unique challenge that a lot of young girls face is the risk of making wrong decisions about their lives and futures. Many are failing to progress in school, so they tend to become mothers at a young age, as they are involved in transgenerational sex for dependency. DREAMS is addressing this by offering entrepreneurship and employability skills to DREAMS girls so that they can be independent.
I think young women are discouraged because they still feel afraid of speaking up. They feel that because they are women, they cannot do what men can do, especially when it comes to leadership and management, because society made them believe that. But with DREAMS, they change their attitude and the future looks promising to them.
DREAMS made me set high goals for myself. Even though I have made mistakes in my life, which delayed my progression toward my future goals, DREAMS made me resilient. No matter how difficult the challenges, my future will be brighter.
When I dream about the future, the picture that comes to mind is of adolescent girls and young women in the DREAMS program being role models for others. I dream of young women knowing their rights, especially in relationships, speaking up, and making the right decisions about their lives. If all of this could be accomplished, there would be no new HIV infections, no poverty, and no gender-based violence.
As I got through my challenges and am now accountable and can make the right decisions, my future goal is to become a nurse. I want to study toward my Bachelor of Nursing Science, which I want to complete within four years. I would like to tell the young women out there that no matter what you are going through or went through, there is always time to change, and the future will be brighter for all of us if we do the right thing.
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