Today we are celebrating the “DREAMS” program.
The name is very appropriate, because through this program, adolescent girls and young women receive the support they need to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe. And with this support, they can achieve their dreams.
All too often, girls’ dreams are interrupted. Research shows a cycle of HIV infection between older men and younger women. When an HIV positive older man has a relationship with a young woman, he infects her with HIV. She eventually then has a relationship with a young man of her own age, infecting him, too. If he doesn’t get tested and started on treatment, he in turn passes the virus on to other young women, continuing this vicious cycle.
This cycle of HIV infection is negatively impacting the dreams and aspirations of Namibia’s youth, and it must be stopped. To break this cycle, girls and young women need support and solutions to reduce the likelihood that they will become infected with HIV in the first place.
This is where the DREAMS program comes in. DREAMS provides comprehensive solutions that go beyond traditional health services to address risk factors such as school drop-out, social isolation, economic disadvantage, and gender-based violence. This approach has been highly successful, because it takes what works in real life, and applies it to the goal of keeping adolescent girls and young women HIV negative and on track to achieve their goals.
So, what exactly does it mean to be Determined, Resilient, and Empowered? It means to believe in yourself and to believe in your goals. Believing in your goals is not so hard – there are many great goals to have in life. But believing in yourself – that is not always so easy.
I think we all have heard the saying “better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.” While those words are true, they don’t give any advice on what to do when you fall down and have to pick yourself up and try again. That is where determination and resilience come in.
Facing life’s challenges is much easier with support. For the girls in the DREAMS program, that support will be in the relationships built, the friends made, the services offered, and the opportunities provided through DREAMS.
The mentorship component of DREAMS is one of the reasons DREAMS is so effective. If you ask successful people how they got to their current position in life, they will tell you about the people who supported them along the way. During my career, I have had many mentors who gave me advice and helped me overcome challenges to achieve my goals.
Evidence shows that the DREAMS program works.
In the first 10 African countries that have implemented DREAMS, most districts achieved a 25-40% decline in new HIV diagnoses among adolescent girls and young women.
Today, we are celebrating the first 1,400 girls enrolled in DREAMS in Namibia, and the expansion of the program to a total of five districts in three regions: Windhoek, Katima Mulilo, Omuthiya, Onandjokwe, and Tsumeb.
First and foremost, let me say congratulations to the girls enrolled in DREAMS. I commend you for the time you have set aside to be part of DREAMS. It takes dedication and commitment, and I truly hope and expect that as a result, all of your dreams will come true.
And to our partners, let me say “thank you.” Implementing such a comprehensive program takes effort, drive, and dedication. Coordinating and leveraging the wide range of different and complementary services is a challenge. Thank you for helping these girls realize their dreams.
Let me also say thank you to the government of the Republic of Namibia. One of the strengths of DREAMS in Namibia is the close relationship the program has built with the Ministries of Education, Gender, and Health. In particular, I thank the Permanent Secretaries for their leadership and support in establishing this program.
In closing, let me quote a great dreamer and achiever, Eleanor Roosevelt, who said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
The DREAMS program will strengthen the determination, resilience, and empowerment of Namibian adolescent girls and young women. While it cannot remove all the challenges from their paths, it can give these girls and young women the tools they need to overcome them.
I know the girls participating in the DREAMS program will have the support they need to believe in their dreams and take hold of their future.