Young Doctor Inspires Botswanan Girls to Dream Big and Break Barriers

Photos courtesy of Dr. Aone Gogontle Ditirwa

Dr. Aone Gogontle Ditirwa, 25, is from Bobonong, in the Eastern horn of Botswana, and one of the youngest female doctors in the southern African country.

As a child, she recalls her love for dismantling things around the house in an effort to “re-create” them – a talent she would go on to perfect in high school before deciding to pursue a career in medicine. She is currently a licensed and practicing medical officer in the pediatric department at a district hospital in Botswana’s tourism capital, Maun, but she also identifies as much more.

Ditirwa, who goes by “Dr. Aone,” is an entrepreneur, a YouTube/lifestyle curator, social activist and self-described dreamer who has thrived in an environment where many adolescent girls and young women have not.

In Botswana and countries around the world, adolescent girls and young women face multiple forms of discrimination and violence that impact their ability to protect their health and make informed decisions about their lives. They are largely underserved and underrepresented in policies and investments and, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, have even more limited access to essential HIV and sexual reproductive health services. Despite making up just 10 percent of the population, adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years old account for one out of every five new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

In response to these compounding challenges, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development through PEPFAR, Global Communities implements DREAMS, a program dedicated to supporting adolescent girls and young women to become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe.

Dr. Aone began serving as a mentor for DREAMS Botswana just prior to the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. She said she saw herself in the faces of each and every girl who participates in the program, full of hope for a better and brighter future in spite of living in circumstances that make them vulnerable to HIV infections, unintended pregnancies and school dropout.

“Girls and young women need to be brave enough to always take the road less traveled and chance on their wildest dreams, so that when they do come to pass, they will realize, that after all, it was doable,” Dr. Aone said.

Through DREAMS Botswana, she is part of a network of community mentors reaching more than 8,620 adolescent girls and young women aged 10-24 years old with education on HIV prevention and life skills in secure, small group environments known as “safe spaces.” During the pandemic, these have been adapted and expanded to include both virtual and in-person meetings at least once a week. Together, groups tackle topics related to mental wellness, gender-based violence and other social, emotional or health issues.

In addition to safe spaces, DREAMS Botswana also reaches participants through a variety of platforms including social media, a radio show called “The Catch” and a magazine – all influenced and inspired by topics central to girls’ lives.

“The ability of choice is everything for us as adolescent girls and young women. Not just any choice but an informed choice that will positively affect our lives,” said Botlhale Sebataladi, a Mobilization & Communications Officer for Global Communities Botswana. “The DREAMS movement here equips girls with skills to be able to make decisions on their sexual health, financial welfare and their social assets. … Our potential as young women is greatly unleashed through this sisterhood.”

When the world celebrated this year’s International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, Dr. Aone and staff from Global Communities Botswana emphasized the importance of engaging girls’ voices in meaningful and deliberate ways that guide programs, policies and services.

“As girls and young women continue to live in an unjust world, they must be motivated to appreciate that the same world is also full of possibilities,” said Betty Adera, Senior Technical Advisor for HIV/AIDS and Health.

To learn more about the DREAMS program and several other initiatives working to amplify the voices of adolescent girls and young women in Botswana, check out this interview with Botlhale Sebataladi.