Aspiring to Become a Nurse: DREAMS Innovation Challenge empowers dropouts to return to high school in Zambia

Rachel’s parents passed away in 2007. She went to live with her aunt, who could barely generate enough income from working in a sugar cane field to meet the family’s basic needs. Eventually unable to pay for school fees, Rachel dropped out in 2015 at the age of 16.

Every day, Rachel helps her aunt take care of the house, in the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, and harvest sugar canes.

Rachel’s former teacher, Mrs. Naluca, knew about her situation. She encouraged her to enroll in Hope Worldwide Zambia’s ASPIRE program at Rosemystica School. ASPIRE stands for After-School Program to Inspire girls to Resume or complete their Education. It is part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, funded by PEPFAR and managed by JSI.

ASPIRE offers after-school clubs for adolescent girls and young women ages 10-24 who have left school before completing their education, or who are in school but are at high risk of dropping out. The clubs use modern educational tools, host peer-led discussions on HIV prevention and social issues, present motivational talks, and provide practical training for getting a job after finishing school. Girls in need also receive help to pay for school fees, exam and practical fees, uniforms, books, and bags. After learning about the program, Rachel decided to enroll with her sister and cousins.

Mrs. Naluca is a teacher at the Rosemystica school and has been the facilitator for the ASPIRE club for two years. She shares, “I enjoy being a facilitator. It’s a great place for me to help teach the young women about specific issues they can come across in Lusaka, such as the various ways of contracting HIV. We also include parents and caregivers in some sessions to learn what skills and information their girls are receiving and how they can provide additional support.”

For Rachel, Mrs. Naluca is more than a teacher. “Having a hero in life is very important. My hero is Mrs. Naluca because she is determined, and she inspires me,” says Rachel.

After attending the sessions, Rachel was ready to return to school, with hope for her future. She shares, “I am so thankful to be able to communicate my issues with Mrs. Naluca and with the other girls. If you don’t have any parents, if you don’t have any sponsorships, it’s not the end of the world. Things will get better.”

According to Mrs. Muitherera, the headmaster of Rachel’s school, “The ASPIRE program is vital for making the teenagers aware of HIV issues, as well as discouraging early marriages. The program teaches the children to make good decisions and helps them build self-esteem.”

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