“Before the Go! Girls Club, my dream was to have the father of my child marry me. But now, marriage is the furthest thing from my mind. What I want is to become an Agricultural Community Development Officer,” said Maggie, an 18-year-old volunteer supervisor of a Go! Girls Club in Malawi.
With funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID, Determined, Resilient, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) is being implemented in Malawi through One Community (One C). As a sub on a grant led by Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs (JHUCCP), Plan is assisting with One C’s DREAMS activities, which aim to reduce new HIV infections among out-of-school adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). These AGYW are aged 10-24 years and targeted through risk reduction knowledge, skill building, and access to youth-friendly services.
AGYW face multiple barriers that prevent them from taking actions to protect themselves from HIV, ranging from cultural and gender norms to social and economic factors. Because of this, DREAMS activities are structured around four strategic populations:
- The AGYW themselves and their children where applicable;
- Their parents;
- Typical sex partners; and
- The community in which they live.
At a community level for vulnerable AGYW, One C uses a variety of methods that include girl rostering and use of existing community-based systems accessed through community-based organizations, traditional leaders, or mother groups. One C has formed 2,786 Go! Girls Clubs with a membership of 42,409 girls. In the Go! Girls Clubs, members participate in group learning activities using the DREAMS tool kit and other materials as they develop social assets, skills, and knowledge on HIV prevention and risk avoidance. AGYW who have children are also educated on positive parenting to create a healthy and stable environment for raising their children.
Maggie joined a Go! Girls Club in 2016 and was soon invited to become a Community Resource Person, a volunteer supervisor for the clubs. After dropping out of school when she became pregnant at age 16 and then struggling to raise her daughter, she said, “I was so excited when I got the call about my new role in the club. Since then, I have continued to surprise myself. Through this opportunity, I have gained the confidence to consult with chiefs, train girls older than me, and rediscover my dreams.” Since she encouraged her Go! Girls Club members to return to school, Maggie decided to do the same.
At an individual level, program activities are designed to empower AGYW through socio-economic asset building and reduce their risk to HIV and violence. The program targets families of AGYW to strengthen them economically and improve their parenting abilities. Typical sexual partners of AGYW are characterized and targeted with highly effective HIV interventions such as behavioral interventions (HIV risk assessment, risk reduction and risk avoidance education, HIV prevention education, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention); HIV testing and linkage for treatment; monitoring for adherence and viral load suppression for those already on antiretroviral treatment; condom promotion and distribution; post-GBV clinical care; and voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV-negative partners of AGYW. In addition, One C works with traditional leaders to mobilize communities for change regarding keeping AGYW HIV-free and safe from violence.
DREAMS activities are implemented in 26 health facility catchment areas in Zomba, Machinga, and Blantyre Districts. One C implements similar activities in 39 sites in the four non-DREAMS districts (Mangochi, Mulanje, Chikwawa, and Phalombe). In collaboration with Population Services International (PSI) in Machinga and Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) in Zomba, One C also facilitates outreach activities to connect AGYW with high-impact and quality HIV risk reduction services.
To learn more about Maggie’s story and the DREAMS Initiative, watch this video created by USAID: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpdRkHjFd4c.