Although Lesotho has a small population of 2.2 million, it has the second highest rate of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the world. As of 2018, 23.6% of the country’s general population ages 15-49 were living with HIV. Among those individuals living with HIV in Lesotho, an estimated 57.58% are women. Younger women, in particular, are disproportionately affected by HIV.
To reduce HIV’s prevalence among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in Lesotho, Sr. Anacletta Nkopele, SLDI Phase IV (2018) Finance track alumna and her congregation, the Good Shepherd Sisters (GSS), collaborated with many public and private sector partners to implement the Determined, Resilient, Aids-Free, Mentored, Safe (DREAMS) project.
A project of USAID and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), DREAMS aims to reduce the rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in countries with especially high HIV rates. To date the project has been implemented in 10 African countries through funding secured by Sr. Anacletta using skills she learned in ASEC's Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program.Sr. Anacletta also serves as the DREAMS Project Manager.
DREAMS Program Objectives
The project involved high level collaborative efforts between GSS, USAID, 4Children (a Catholic Relief Services project), Caritas Lesotho, Population Services International, the Society for Women and Aids in Africa Lesotho (SWAALES), the Centre for Impacting Lives (CIL) and Sentebale, an organization founded by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help vulnerable children in Lesotho.
The first phase of the program was implemented by Caritas Lesotho, and the second phase has been implemented by the GSS congregation. The project focuses on four objectives:
- AGYW improve their self-esteem, efficacy and decision-making through improved life skills and access to HIV/AIDS services;
- AGYW improve their economic independence through participation in savings and lending communities and improved financial management skills;
- Families of AGYW have strengthened relationships and increased knowledge of positive parenting techniques; and
- AGYW have improved access to quality education and complete their education.
DREAMS Program Implementation
The DREAMS program was implemented in two phases.
Phase I of the project was implemented by Caritas Lesotho and was focusing on parenting; Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) and Financial Education (FE). HIV prevalence among AGYW is up to three times higher than among their male peers.These interventions target AGYW aged 9-24 years as the studies revealed that they are the most vulnerable age group.
The Coordinating Comprehensive Care for Children project focuses on:
- Empowering and reducing the risk of AGYW through social asset building and increased access to HIV services.
- Combining socio-economic approaches including savings groups.
- Improving relationships between adolescents’ and their parents’/caregivers’, with HIV prevention and care benefits, through Rethabile parenting program.
DREAMS Program Results
The project engaged in monitoring and evaluation of its objectives and outcomes are revealing impacts in multiple areas.
The DREAMS project has increased protective factors against HIV by bolstering the social and life skills of AGYW as well as access to HIV/AIDS services.
Increased Self-Esteem and Decision Making Skills in AGYW
After participation in social asset sessions that taught life and social skills, AGYW demonstrated increased self-esteem, self-efficacy and decision making skills.
As a result, AGYW are empowered to make responsible choices that promote their safety, autonomy and well-being.
A total of 16,690 AGYW were served through social asset sessions, across nine community council areas in Lesotho.
More Community Awareness
AGYW were also served through HIV messaging sessions and community service days. These events gave Sr. Anacletta and the Good Shepherd Sisters the opportunity to sensitize beneficiaries about HIV/AIDS services, provide select services and raise awareness about HIV and transmission methods.
Nearly 1,800 individuals participated in the community service days.
Improved Economic Independence of AGYW
AGYW also improved their economic independence and financial education training. In particular, AGYW reported an increase in savings, which improved their economic independence.
Such independence is evident in 18 year old Mahlapane Makhethe who sells drink o-pop sachets in her community. As a member of an SLIC group, she practices saving, strengthening her business and economic independence.
Decreased Vulnerability to Exploitation
With financial freedom, AGYW are better safeguarded against HIV, as they are not financially dependent on others and are less vulnerable to exploitation that could result in high risk coping strategies.
Strengthened Familial Relationships
Finally, the project has improved familial relationships among AGYW with 1,150 parents reporting improved relationships with their children.
Moreover, parents/caretakers were less likely to mistreat children or use violent discipline strategies.
As a result, AGYW were provided with a more positive support network that can act as a protective factor against the transmission of HIV.
Effective collaboration between the religious, private and public sectors helped the DREAMS project achieve its success. Thus far, data shows that in countries implementing DREAMS projects, there has been a 25-40% reduction in new HIV infections among AGYW, with decreasing rates in almost all districts where DREAMS project was delivered.
With more than 17,000 individuals served, the DREAMS project has addressed the underlying factors that contribute to HIV among AGYW.