LVCT DREAMS Kenya march
Advocating for girls' empowerment one step at a time, Guitethia DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health
Advocating for girls' empowerment one step at a time, Guitethia DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

From DREAMS to reality: empowering adolescent girls in Kenya

10th November 2023

Over the past decade, results of the national Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) have highlighted the high prevalence of violence against children in the Eastern African region. Using this data LVCT Health Kenya implemented local prevention programs to combat the cycle of HIV and violence for high-risk girls.

Their efforts contributed to an overall reduction of 50% in the prevalence of violence, nationally. Through the DREAMS program 3,500 girls have completed secondary school and 1,000 businesses have been supported, in just 1 year alone.

Participants celebrate their award during a DREAMS talent show at Guitethia DREAMS Site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Gachororo is a large neighborhood village in Juja Kiambu County, 25 km north of Nairobi.

The village is comprised of slums, coffee estates, a town centre and semi-rural areas. It has an estimated population of nearly 17,000 and a total of almost 6,000 households. Gachororo hosts one of the largest Universities in Kenya, a primary and secondary school.

The communities living here mainly rely on casual jobs at storage facilities, quarries and coffee plantations in the area.

The vast coffee estates are highly restricted and barriered-in by fences, but also unguarded. These conditions make women and girls highly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence. Poverty in the area exacerbates the vulnerabilities of adolescent girls, resulting in increased teen pregnancies. This has also pushed girls to get their essential needs through engaging in unprotected sex.

High cases of drug and alcohol abuse in the area are attributable to university students who have driven a thriving market in the neighbourhood.

Working closely with health, children services, education and local government administrations, LVCT Health is implementing the DREAMS programme to address the vulnerabilities that put adolescent girls and young women at higher risk of contracting HIV.

Before the DREAMS programme most girls in this community were not completing school due to unaffordable school fees. Risk-taking behaviors leading to violence or poor health was also common.

LVCT DREAMS programme Kenya
DREAMS ambassador, Vivian, poses for a photo during World Menstrual Health Day event

The youth of Gachorro are served by PEPFAR’s DREAMS programme. Implemented by LVCT in Kiambu county, DREAMS is an HIV-prevention programme that aims at reducing HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women.

It targets areas with highest prevalence of HIV, gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies as reported by demographic health surveys, or the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS).

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During an empowerment session, adolescents learn the art of bead work

Once accepted by the county and sub-county stakeholders, programme implementers meet with the key community gatekeepers for buy-in of the programme.

Community health workers then identify households with the most vulnerable adolescent girls and young women who are eligible for enrolment into the DREAMS programme.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya young girls GBV event
DREAMS girls pose for a photo during an "End GBV" advocacy event in Riabai DREAMS Site

The core packages of the DREAMS programme include empowering girls and young women to reduce their risks for HIV and violence and reducing risk of sex partners, strengthening the family economically, as well as through their ability for positive parenting, and educating girls, young women and young men to mobilize the community for change.

These different interventions are conducted in safe spaces, within a community setting or at schools. The programme targets various age groups up to 24 years and starts with girls as young as 9.

Khari, 18
Commemorating "16 days of Activism Against GBV." Image credit: LVCT Kenya.

When I was 15, I decided to take part in DREAMS because they help girls by paying our school fees, buying us uniforms and providing courses, like catering, plumbing and hairdressing after high school. I had challenges paying my school fees when I was in form three so they paid for me.

DREAMS girl using her make up skills to prep one of the girls during an "End GBV" advocacy event.
DREAMS girl using her make up skills to prep one of the girls during an "End GBV" advocacy event. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health
DREAMS LVCT Kenya menstrual class 2

I also took classes as part of the DREAMS programme and we were taught about HIV and contraceptives.

I learnt there are two types of contraceptives: hormonal and non-hormonal. Before you use any contraceptives you should visit the doctor so that they can prescribe the best contraceptive for you.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya marching

I also learnt that I could get the contraceptives at the hospital or I can tell my mentor.

She helps me to gain knowledge and follows up on whether I’m going to school or not. She’s my guardian in DREAMS, she’s always available.

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DREAMS programme participant showcases her fast food business

There is an entrepreneurship class where I was taught about saving. There are also courses to help you start your own business, or if you have a business idea DREAMS can support you or boost you. I did the catering course and was just asked to help prepare the meals at a recent DREAMS conference.

What I like most about DREAMS is that when someone completes high school the support doesn’t end, they can choosing a course of their choice and DREAMS will pay the school fees.

The DREAMS programme has impacted my behavior. It has taught me how to relate with people at the workplace because we all have different personalities. It has really helped me a lot and has equipped me with skills and helped me to be open minded.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya catering
A cooking competition at the Kiandutu DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health.
DREAMS LVCT Kenya catering 2
Omari, 19
Riabai DREAMS Site and Ting’anga’a DREAMS Site engage in a friendly football match. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

I live in Juja Highpoint and took part in DREAMS for about 3 weeks in 2022.

When they came to my home I was motivated to join because you’re educated on how to live with people and to have good behavior, being taught not to engage in drugs, and how to live in harmony with your parents.

LVCT Kenya DREAMS workshop
Mentors Engagement Forum at Umoja DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Around this area a lot of boys are into drugs. Even when we went for the training there were very few of us even though we were being urged to tag along a friend. Only a few accepted to join the programme, most of them were on drugs so they didn’t want to attend.

Our DREAMS mentor told us that if we indulge in drugs we might end up stealing and the penalty will be death or prison and our parents will be very devastated. The other thing I learnt was that parents are the ones who have our blessing so we should respect them.

Through DREAMS we were also educated on talent. My mentor mentioned that if you had any talent like maybe dancing, singing or football then DREAMS could be able to support you by giving sponsorship deals.

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Mentors pose for a photo during a friendly football match between Riabai DREAMS Site and Ting’anga’a DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

What I learnt which is helping me in my current life is that I stopped doing drugs, I started respecting my mother and also started going home early. Personally, DREAMS has helped because I never used to be on good terms with my mother, we never used to see eye to eye. But when my mentor came to my home and talked to me I decided to change my ways on drugs.

Now we live in harmony because I respect my mother and I follow her house rules. She is happy because she noticed I had changed. Parents are our guides and we should live in harmony with them and also respect them at all times.

Nya, 23
Religious leader gives graduates a tree to plant, to symbolize birth of a new season and growth for the next year. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

I’m a DREAMS graduate and I live around Gachororo. I participated in DREAMS for about 4 years, and decided to take part in the programme so I could learn about sex, condoms, how to be safe when you meet a HIV positive person, and then go out and teach the other girls in my community.

LVCT DREAMS menstrual education
Ting’ang’a DREAMS site celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

DREAMS helped me with my school fees and once I finished I took a hairdressing course at St Dominic’s. I was also taught classes on financial capability: how to save and how to open an account, with aid in acquiring a loan.

After that we were given capital for business, I received seven thousand shillings. I bought eggs and started distributing them but then the prices of eggs went up. I couldn't manage so I went into the book business which I still do. But I was still thinking of what more I could do, so I decided to supply smokies and donuts to the DREAMS staff.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya CV class
DREAMS LVCT Kenya CV class 2
Phylis Awimbo, LVCT Health HR, shares insights on writing a good CV to empower DREAMS girls programme participants. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

DREAMS really supported me so much until I was able to open my hotel in Juja town. Financially I can say I am stable because I have a little money myself and I have employed a number of people. And with time I will employ more. At my bookshop I have also employed someone. Hairdressing I do part time.

I decided to do this business in catering after the vocational course in hairdressing because I just woke up one day and decided to take the risk - hairdressing you may not get money daily.

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Girls from the DREAMS programme equipped with catering skills during a capacity building initiative, Ndumberi. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health
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What I like the most about DREAMS is that they are really supportive. If you tell them about your problems they listen. Let’s say you had a misunderstanding with your parents, you come and tell your mentor and then they talk to your parents and you are able to solve the issues.

I want to say: DREAMS team thank you so much for enabling me to get to this point. I know there are girls who feel burdened by attending the classes but they should not give up because DREAMS might be their destiny connectors.

Zuwena, 57
Adolescent girls pose for a group photo during a Menstrual health Walk at Kiandutu DREAMS. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

I live here in Gachororo. I am a casual laborer at the hospital, I work in the cleaning department at the maternity ward. It is not a permanent job because I have not been formally employed. I work 8am-5pm and sometimes I also do night shifts 7pm-7am. On Sundays I go to church.

I have 10 children in total. I haven’t done my math for their ages but I do remember the years they were born in. My first was born in 1985, second born 1987, third born 1990, fourth born 1993, I have 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, and my last child was born in 2009.

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Adolescent girls pose for a group photo during a Menstrual health Walk at Riabai DREAMS. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

I decided to join the DREAMS programme because around this area of ours we are so down. We are always waiting for opportunities, so when I heard I would receive help for my children, I thought it was wise for me to join the programme and enrol them too. I now have two of my girls in DREAMS.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya menstrual class
DREAMS girls programme participants pose for a photo during a Menstrual Health Day, Riabai DREAMS. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health.

When DREAMS came to my home they explained that the girls would always be educated with a mentor. After us mothers were educated I felt it was okay for my children to continue with the programme.

I was so down but DREAMS has helped my children a lot and started supporting us with money for their secondary school fees for the last 3 years. The girls also get sanitary pads and soaps.

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DREAMS girls programme participants pose for a photo during a Menstrual Health Day, Riabai DREAMS. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Now, I always try to convince other mothers to let their children join DREAMS, because girls and mothers get help. When girls join DREAMS they are empowered to greater heights so I always tell mothers if you want your children assisted please join DREAMS.

Sometimes you hear them ask what has DREAMS helped you with because we can’t see anything tangible but I always tell them that my girls' school fees are always paid and the girls who are hot headed are also educated by the mentors and they change.

DREAMS girls LVCT Kenya
Mentors Engagement Forum at Umoja DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

I have two girls in secondary school and I still have other children who I need to feed. So if DREAMS pay school fees for my girls then the money I earn I can use at home to buy food and pay school fees for my other children.

DREAMS has really helped me a lot.

I always talk to my children openly we have no secrets between us because we were taught we should not keep secrets, when you want to talk to the children speak the truth and avoid hiding some content. The teachings educated me that when I notice anything strange in my children I should talk to them openly and not hide anything from them. I have noticed positive changes in them.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya graduation
Guiteithiya DREAMS girls participants pose for a group photo during their graduation ceremony. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

On the parent's side, for me as an individual, DREAMS has taught me how to follow up on my girls by talking to them. They can fall into peer pressure so I teach them not to keep bad company that can mislead you.

I tell them for example, “your success depends on your education. If you decide to have sex it is only you who will lose because a man’s life will go on. But if you get pregnant, you will have to stay home and take care of the baby. You know the life of poverty we live in so you strive hard in education so that you can succeed in life.”

Baraka, 21
Men not left behind during Menstrual Health Hygiene Day, Kiatundu. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health.

I live in Gachororo. I see various violence in my community. Between boys, they call it vurugu. This is when the fights are driven because of drugs and over parking motorcycles to wait for customers. Also, I have known some friends who have been in toxic relationships: girlfriends who have been beaten up by their boyfriends. But they can’t report such matters, they will look for a friend and they open up but they don’t report, they solve the issues among themselves.

For those who have gone through the programme the violence has reduced. It is a big step they made in joining the programme.

I have a lot of friends who participated in DREAMS, even my sisters are in the programme. They say their experiences have been good and they've really developed, you can easily note the changes before they joined the programme and after.

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DREAMS site Incharge pose for a group photo. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health
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Joshua Ndolo, an 'End GBV' advocate leads adolescent girls for a march during '16 Days of Activisim to end GBV'. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

For my sisters the classes on HIV prevention and protection helped them.

I, myself, would definitely love to participate in a program. I believe I can learn more and also I will acquire a lot of skills.

DREAMS LVCT dancing group
Dance competition, during Menstrual Health Day celebrations at Ndumberi. Credit: Rebecca Musanga

Some of my male friends before they joined the programme were so idle you would find them in wrong spots where they should not be, they were unproductive and just loitering in the community but once they got engaged they became productive and started businesses.

Personally, have you noticed changes in my friends because now they make their decisions based on the teachings they received.

David, DREAMS implementer
Evaluation synthesis meeting among DREAMS programme staff in Kiambu County. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

We have seen a lot of changes compared to when we first entered the communities.

We have seen adolescent girls and young women being able to make informed choices. They are more aware of the risk of HIV and the violence that they face, and now they are able to report and handle such issues.

Also, they can now feel confident to say no to things that put them at risk of contracting HIV.

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Group photo, during '16 Days of Activitism Against GBV' walk in Riabai. Credit: Rebecca Musanga
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In just one year, we have helped over 3,500 girls to transition from primary school through to completion of secondary school.

This has really had a big impact as most girls in this community were not finishing their schooling because they were forced to drop out due to school fees or early pregnancy.

But now the condition has really changed.

DREAMS LVCT Kenya graduates
DREAMS programme graduates celebrate their achievements, Guiteithia DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga
DREAMS LVCT Kenya cooking course

We have also supported 2,500 girls with vocational training. As a result some of them are now employed, others have even been able to start their own businesses, and actually they are really doing so well, we have a lot of success stories.

LVCT DREAMS programme 9

We have some girls doing tailoring and we actually pay them to provide school uniforms to the programme when we are supporting other girls. One of these girls in the Wetethie ward started her own business and is now employing two others.

And we engage those who have had catering classes to offer meals and refreshments during our other training sessions, and that’s been a good platform to ensure that the girls are more empowered.

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We also have supported quite a number of businesses, around 1,000 in this financial year alone.

Through mentorship we have seen girls be more resilient, coaching them so they don’t end up closing their businesses, and actually some are really thriving and doing so well.

The impact of the programme on the girls’ lives is evident from improved school attendance, and the positive feedback from schools and institutions on their performance.

Parents also see positive behavior change in their children. The girls themselves are very grateful to the DREAMS programme for helping them rekindle their lost hopes in life.

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Mentors learning forum, Umoja DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

There are some situations where the impacts are not seen, for example the girls still drop out of school or continue to have challenges. Our approach is to retain them in the DREAMS programme and continuously engage them to understand what the issues are.

LVCT DREAMS Kenya march
Advocating for girls' empowerment one step at a time, Guitethia DREAMS site. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Some girls had dropped out of school because of early pregnancy, but DREAMS helped them to achieve what they desired in their lives, whether that was to complete their education, or take vocational training to start their own businesses.

The DREAMS program proves that context-specific violence data can be successfully used to inform and drive system-based actions.

LVCT Kenya translated the VACS' groundbreaking data on the prevalence, nature and drivers of violence in childhood and young adulthood, into life-changing programs which have been transformational for individual girls, their families, and ultimately, the economies of their wider communities.