‘This Is What It Means to Be Empowered’

How the DREAMS Program Changed Winnie’s Life

At age 15, having completed only four years of primary education, a young woman named Winnie in a small town in Uganda found work as a barmaid to help support herself and her family. Friends convinced her to take on sex work, and she eventually agreed to have unprotected sex with customers willing to pay more money. 

“When I became pregnant the story changed, I wouldn’t get customers anymore and so decided to give sex trade a break,” she said. After she gave birth and her baby was one year old, she couldn’t cope financially and returned to sex work. 
After relocating to Mukono, Uganda, two friends with whom she previously worked and who had also migrated to Mukono visited her. They told her about a program in Mukono targeting young girls like them that would give them options other than sex work. “When they told me about the DREAMS program, I made up my mind to join. Since then, I have never regretted my decision,” Winnie said. 

PEPFAR’s DREAMS public-private partnership aims to help young women become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe through education, vocational training and other evidence-based interventions. In the Mukono DREAMS program, implemented by MHRP partner the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, Winnie learned the importance of safe sex practices and had the opportunity to take an HIV test.

“At first I feared to take a test, but I was given very good counselling and later agreed,” Winnie said. “Lucky enough I tested HIV negative and praised my God.” 

Winnie prides herself in having learned the importance of saving under the DREAMS program. 

“At first I saw it as impossible. Already I was getting very little money because I had left the business of sex trade and was working in a hair salon using the skills I had learnt in the safe space. However, after saving for one year, am excited about my accumulated savings.” Winnie plans to use her savings to start up her own hair dressing business salon. 

“This is what it means to be empowered,” Winnie said. “Under DREAMS we have learned many life skills including hair dressing, sweater making and bead making. I feel that with all these skills that I have learned, I will not go without food, my child cannot fail to get good clothing or fail go to school.”