Enesi and Oliver are two young, empowered mothers who overcame violence in order to take charge of their lives and advocate for others through the PEPFAR DREAMS program.
When you meet Enesi N. and Oliver B., you are instantly impressed by the poised, smiling young women who confidently tell their personal stories. They are peer educators at Kihumbe, a program supported by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, an implementing partner of PEPFAR’s DREAMS partnership, in Mbeya, Tanzania.
But they weren’t always able to talk about their experiences.
Enesi, 24, was abandoned as a child with no financial support. Forced into unsafe sexual activity to pay for food, she became pregnant at an early age. Unbeknownst to her, she had also contracted HIV.
She became pregnant again a few years later, and experienced physical and sexual abuse by her partner. While pregnant, she went to the hospital and found out that she was HIV-positive, but did not tell anyone about her status. Unable to take the medication, she and her child became critically ill.
That’s when peer educators from Kihumbe intervened. They encouraged her to start on medication, and she began to regain her strength. They also helped her report her abusive ex-partner to the police, and encouraged her to come to the program, where she received education on antiretroviral (ARV) medication, family planning, and entrepreneurship training.
“I count it as having parents, which I never expected to get in life,” she said.
Oliver, 23, was kicked out of school and her home after becoming pregnant at the age of 17. Forced to sell food on the streets, she experienced a myriad of sexual and physical abuse and eventually ended up in dangerous sex work.
Fortunately, her friend’s grandmother saw that she was in an untenable situation, and introduced her to the DREAMS peer educators. They referred her to Kihumbe, where she received HIV testing, and information on family planning and child rearing.
For the first time in her life, she was also able to talk freely about her experiences with violence in a safe and welcoming environment.
Helping other girls through DREAMS
Now both young women are playing a critical role as DREAMS peer educators.
The program uses a “girl roster” to identify vulnerable girls through data collected via mobile app by the peer educators during household visits. The peer educators use this data to follow up with the most vulnerable girls and young women.
Often young mothers, HIV-positive, and/or living in unsafe situations, the girls and young women are encouraged to go to Kihumbe to receive information, counselling, health care, and training.
Engaging men and boys
“Our goal is to ensure that HIV-negative girls remain negative, and the HIV-positive girls receive the services and support that they need,” said DREAMS coordinator Anna.
In order to do this, the peer educators also lead discussion groups with male partners to ensure they are educated on HIV prevention, family planning and violence prevention.
“We discuss why sexual violence is wrong and how it can lead to HIV,” said Anna. “But this doesn’t happen in one day. It’s about continuous education. Now we have men who are role models in their communities and helping to spread the word.”
Enesi and Oliver are thankful for the services they’ve received and are excited to help others as peer educators.
“My request is that we reach more girls all over Tanzania,” said Enesi, who has already helped 15 girls herself.
“My dream for these children is for them to reach their own dreams according to their own desires.”
“What gives us hope is how we are rescuing these children. If I stop doing this, who will?”
“My salon is famous within the community. People are brought to me even if I don’t know them because they know that I am a champion for the victims of sexual violence.”
“With the one stop center, more victims get the services they need on time, right away."
"I started working in violence prevention because I believe that children need to be well-protected to ensure that they can grow and develop."
“Children’s issues are not a single person’s responsibility, we all must work in cooperation for the benefit of the child."
This story was created as part of the Together for Girls partnership’s trip to Tanzania. Special thanks to DREAMS and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
Sexual violence against children affects children everywhere at a staggering rate — one in four girls experience physically forced or coerced sexual intercourse.