DREAMS Helps Girls Break the Silence in their Communities

September 21st, 2017 | Story

JSI supported the Culture Fund in Zimbabwe with DREAMS Innovation Challenge to support girls to break the silence in their community on reproductive health.
DREAMS beneficiary, young mother, with her children in Zimbabwe

Growing up as a girl in Zimbabwean society is both wonderful and challenging. Expectations are many and weigh heavily, and girls must balance desires to be independent with staying in good standing with family and community.

Nokuthaba is a 20-year-old DREAMS champion working with Victory Siyanqoba, a Culture Fund DREAMS Innovation Challenge (DREAMS-IC) implementing partner based in Bulawayo. She is one of 19 volunteers recruited to mobilize adolescent girls, young women, and community members for the DREAMS-IC project in the southern Zimbabwe city.

After Nokuthaba was introduced to the DREAMS-IC project, she seized the opportunity to help other girls know about their sexuality and access sexual and reproductive health services. Nokuthaba also decided not only to fully commit to the project, but to go beyond just mobilizing other girls. She wanted to help engage other girls and community members on sexuality issues.

Through door-to door-engagements, Nokuthaba recruited 29 adolescent girls and young women to the project. She is keen to mobilize more girls to participate in the clubs so that they too can discuss bodily integrity and sexuality in with other girls and more mature women.

Nokuthaba has volunteered to host a community outreach event in Nkulumane. She led a session discussing how some of the cultural arguments used to hinder adolescent girls’ and young women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services were challenged by the findings of the Culture Fund baseline study. The session was attended by 48 community members.

It is unusual in Nokuthaba’s community for a young woman to talk with older people about sexuality. Community members are usually silent on family planning access for girls because they want unmarried girls shun sexual activities, even though in reality adolescent girls’ sexual debut is often quite early.

Nokuthaba is finding every opportunity to talk about how to create an environment where young women and girls are free to access sexual and reproductive health services. She believes they desperately need the services.

Other girls participating in the DREAMS-IC clubs in Bulawayo’s three wards respect Nokuthaba’s courage and ambition. One girl said, “We are happy to work with Noku in our community. She is always ready to assist us and to give us information on various things, and where she needs help, she is not scared to ask older people.”

DREAMS-IC is a key component of the broader DREAMS partnership, which aims to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women across 10 sub-Saharan African countries by keeping them determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored, and safe (DREAMS). Culture Fund is implementing the DREAMS-IC in three wards of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in partnership with community-based organization Victory Siyanqoba Trust.

Managed on behalf of U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by JSI Research & Training Institute Inc., the Innovation Challenge aims to infuse new solutions for addressing the complex needs of adolescent girls and young women. JSI supports 46 of the 55 DREAMS-IC winners.

“I realized that if I keep silent, I’m not doing any good to myself or my peers. Talking is good because you learn new things, and we as girls can avoid making some mistakes which can haunt us for life.” said Nokuthaba.

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