Janisa, DREAMS Ambassador, Tanzania. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.
Janisa, DREAMS Ambassador, Tanzania. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

Safe Heroes: Janisa, DREAMS Ambassador, Tanzania

14th November 2018

The Dreams Beauty Saloon in Mbeya, Tanzania, is known for more than a good haircut. The salon is a gathering place in the community where girls and young women can connect, share stories, learn about their health and rights, and be empowered.

The salon is owned by Janisa M., 24, a PEPFAR DREAMS Ambassador, single mother and survivor. At 16, her parents died and she went to live with her grandmother. One of her duties was to gather firewood – a treacherous daily chore that often put her at risk of sexual and physical violence.

Janisa Safe Hero and DREAMS ambassador
Janisa, DREAMS Ambassador and beauty salon owner. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

Care and support through DREAMS

When Janisa was raped and beaten, and became pregnant, her family did not believe her, kicking her out of the house. Pregnant with nowhere to go, she became involved in an extremely violent relationship. After giving birth, she begged her grandmother to let her come home. It was there that her life changed dramatically.

At the age of 22, a DREAMS peer educator came to her grandmother’s home and encouraged her to meet in a safe space to discuss her experiences. It was the first time anyone had talked to her about gender-based violence (GBV).

“Before I didn’t know what it was. But they taught me about GBV and about where a victim of such violence should go,” Janisa said.

Janisa Safe Heroes
Janisa outside her "DREAMS Beauty Saloon". Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

Pursuing a business dream

Through DREAMS, she was tested for HIV and received training on HIV prevention and family planning. She also received an education on financial management and entrepreneurship training. One of the skills that she learned was hairdressing, and Janisa was a natural.

Janisa bonded with the young women in her DREAMS group and they began sharing business ideas and saving money together. Eventually, they were able to open a hair salon together. “At that point we had no equipment, we were only braiding hair and that was it. And as we were braiding, I started saving and I started buying equipment piece by piece.”

Naturally, they called the salon the Dreams Beauty Saloon. Janisa saw the salon not only as a financial opportunity, but also as an opportunity to help other survivors of sexual violence.

“A lot of girls are victims of sexual violence and are at risk as I was and I felt it would be appropriate for me to help them, so I asked the peer educators to bring these girls to my salon. When they come here, I teach them about GBV and also condom use.”

Creating a safe community
The hair salon is seen as a community gathering place for girls and women to come together in a safe and relaxed setting. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.
Janisa HIV prevention training
Janisa teaches a client about HIV prevention while she is getting her hair done. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

She also refers them to critical services. “I received girls who are victims of sexual violence out of the community, maybe they were beaten or raped, and I linked them to the gender children’s desk where they are assisted. I have sent about 200 girls to health centers for family planning services and 75 girls have gone for HIV testing and are now fully aware of their status.”

At first, Janisa says, the community was apprehensive about a young woman discussing such topics at a salon.

“They didn’t understand why a young girl was distributing condoms. But bit by bit, I explained to them who I was and why I am doing this. I told them I am doing this in order to rescue our community,” she said.

Janisa braiding hair
Janisa provides a warm and safe welcome for her clients. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

Changing perceptions

Janisa has seen positive developments in the community as more people talk about sexual violence. “As a victim of rape, I used to feel like I was being ostracized. I didn’t understand what had happened to me…Now, when victims come to me, they learn to understand that what happened to them was not normal. Through DREAMS, people are changing”

“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,” Janisa said. “I am grateful the community has understood and accepted this. I am also grateful because now I am independent; I am paying for my child’s education; I am affording my house rent, as well as my salon’s rent.”

But Janisa isn’t content just yet. She says she plans to expand in the next year so that she can help even more girls.

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“As a DREAMS leader, I wish to train more girls but I don’t have the space. In 10 years, I wish for the whole country to recognize me as a hairdresser and as a DREAMS Ambassador.”

Braiding hair
One of Janisa's clients having her hair braided. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.
Janisa in her salon
Janisa and staff braid hair as a client reads information on HIV prevention and contraceptive care. Photo: Together for Girls/Alexandra Tucci Thomas/Tanzania.

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.