For a DREAMS Graduate, an Entrepreneurship Course Provides Steps to a Better Life

In Rwanda, HIV prevalence is highest among youth aged 20-24. It is against this background that the PEPFAR-funded DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS Free, Mentored and Safe) program was launched in five districts to address structural drivers of HIV among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), which includes poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and a lack of education. In 2018, the USAID Twiyubake program, which assists 50,000 households in 12 districts of Rwanda and is implemented by Global Communities, expanded to also provide DREAMS program activities.

In order to achieve success through DREAMS, young women and adolescents at times must transcend incredible life difficulties and embrace the program’s offerings, which support participants throughout months of personal development. An example of this is Solange, who became pregnant with the baby of her 22 year-old boyfriend and classmate at the age of 17. She had been living with her mother in the Kimisagara sector of the Nyarugenge district, and her father had long since passed away. When Solange’s pregnancy became visible, her mother became very upset and kicked her out of the house. On her own with a new baby, Solange then rented a small room for Rwf 6,000 in a neighboring area. She survived day-to-day through casual jobs such as providing hairwashing services at hair salons, serving in small restaurants and sometimes had a bit of support from friends.

“The DREAMS program changed my lifespecifically the TVET lessons on entrepreneurship and life skills sessions at the safe spacethis is why I never miss any class.”

In May 2018, she enrolled in the Twiyubake DREAMS program. She started attending sexual reproductive health and life skills lessons at safe spaces provided by the program. The DREAMS safe space model segments girls into groups according to their age cohorts and then gives them age-appropriate information regarding HIV prevention and other life skills. Solange became a member of the DREAMS-supported teen mother Imena savings group and months later enrolled into the Kigali Leading Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) School for hospitality, where she attended classes on entrepreneurship. That same month, Solange began to support her friend, who was also a teen mother, in her fruit selling business. She sold fruit for a couple of weeks after her classes in exchange for a daily wage of Rwf 1,000.

Using the savings from the job, Solange started her own business. She bought three bags of avocados at Rwf 8,000 from farmers and re-sold them for Rwf 15,000 in the early mornings before school. In November 2018, when school was on break, she expanded her business to sell to shop owners at the local market. Her business continued to flourish so she started selling fruit at the market after class as well. After continuing this model, Solange’s monthly revenue is now between Rwf 60,000 to Rwf 70,000.

“The DREAMS program changed my lifespecifically the TVET lessons on entrepreneurship and life skills sessions at the safe spacethis is why I never miss any class,” explained Solange. Since starting this new journey, Solange has rebuilt her relationships with her mother and the father of her child. Today, she leaves her son from time to time with her mother. Solange’s ex-boyfriend, who is currently pursuing university studies, visits his son once a month and contributes some financial support to Solange and the child.