Big dreams for the girl child

Big dreams for the girl child

MASERU – Unable to compete fashion wise, Nthabeleng Likoto chose to drop out of school. While other girls were slaying it with the latest fashion, Likoto had to do with cheap clothes. Coming from a poor background, she wore black leather school shoes where other girls wore Skechers Kids Girls’ Breathe-Easy Sneakers. “I felt bad. I lacked confidence when I was around my peers hence I dropped out of school,” she says.

Likoto says she always felt out of place and would withdraw from the group. Eventually, she became a loner and quit school. Now, she is trying again after regaining her self-confidence. “The road has not been easy at all… but I can overcome the challenges,” Likoto says. She was speaking at a function held by the Dreams Initiative project last Saturday. Dreams Initiative, sponsored by the United States embassy, is aimed at reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women aged between 10 and 24 years in Lesotho, according to the sponsors.

The emphasis of the project is primarily on prevention of HIV in young girls and women by equipping them with life skills. Likoto is one of hundreds who have benefitted from the programme. Peer pressure, teenage pregnancy and lack of budgeting skills are some of the challenges that young women face daily, she says. Some of the women who benefitted under the Dreams Initiative project are low-earning industrial workers who are always struggling with budgeting for their families’ needs.

“But since they joined Dreams their lives have been changed for the better,” Likoto says, referring to the industrial workers who were trained under the project. “We are able to accept who we are, budget the little amount of money earned and live a happy, fulfilling life,” she says. Dreams Initiative was introduced in 10 sub-Saharan countries of Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in 2016.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief PEPFAR data shows significant declines in new HIV diagnoses among adolescent girls and young women. On its website, Dreams Initiative says in the 10 countries, the majority (65 percent) of the highest-HIV-burden communities or districts achieved a 25-40 percent or greater decline in new HIV diagnoses among young women. “Importantly, new diagnoses declined in nearly all DREAMS intervention districts,” according to the website.

The initiative was introduced after realising that many adolescent girls and young women lack access to opportunities and are often devalued because of their gender. “Social isolation, economic disadvantage, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood, gender-based violence, and school drop-out all contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV,” the website reads.

The Saturday indaba agreed that to eradicate poverty, it is necessary to empower women and girls through educational opportunities, to develop skills in income-generating activities, and to provide them with associated life skills necessary for a successful future. HIV infection rates among adolescent girls and young women in Lesotho between the ages of 15 and 24 is 28 percent compared to 13.6 percent among adolescent boys and young men in the same range, according to Help Lesotho.

Help Lesotho is a non-governmental organisation that advocates for children and youths to experience gender equity in an HIV/AIDS-free Lesotho. Its mission is to develop and deliver holistic, innovative programmes that help people heal, learn new skills and strategies, and ultimately take action for the benefit of others. It is empowering a critical mass of children and youths with the knowledge and support needed for them to lead a movement that advocates for social justice, particularly the rights of girls and women in pursuit of gender equity.

Dreams Initiative will be implemented in schools, health facilities, Selibeng Post Violence Centre and orphans and vulnerable children’s homes. The US Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales also launched the #IamFollowingMyDreams campaign. This campaign was implemented by the Christian Relief Services (CRS) under the Children’s Dreams project. “Girls are one of the most powerful forces for change in the world,” Gonzales says. “When their rights are recognised, their needs are met, and their voices are heard, young women and girls drive change in their families, their communities and the world,” she says.

Gonzales says PEPFAR has recently approved an additional $82.5 million (just over M1 billion) for Lesotho for the coming financial year beginning October 2018. The money will be used to build on the strides the country is making in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In Lesotho like many other countries that face high levels of gender discrimination, women and girls are exposed to various risks and vulnerabilities, she says.

“Far too often, girls and women bear the worst of poverty, poor health care, lack of education and other inequalities,” says Gonzales. Deputy Health Minister ’Manthabiseng Phohleli urged girls to prioritise education.
“Child marriage must fall,” Phohleli says.

Tokase Mphutlane


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