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DREAMS Work in Mbeya Provides a Path Out of Prostitution

March 8, 2018

Joyce was just 12 years old when her parents divorced, leaving her mother to raise her and her three siblings in a village near Mbeya, Tanzania. Without land to farm or a proper income, Joyce’s mother struggled to put food on the table. Joyce, a promising secondary school student, did her best to help her mother, but soon they couldn’t afford school uniforms or books for the children.

At 15, in need of income to support her family, Joyce entered into sex work. She was forced to drop out of school when she became pregnant at 16 and continued with prostitution, even while pregnant. She knew of no other way to provide for her family. By 18, Joyce had two babies, with little ability to prevent future pregnancies or knowledge of how to protect herself from disease.

Joyce’s brother took her from her village to Mbeya, with hopes of giving her a second chance at life. In Mbeya, she met a peer educator and was enrolled into the DREAMS initiative funded by PEPFAR through the Henry Jackson Foundation Military Research International (HJFMRI) and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program.

PEPFAR’s DREAMS public-partnership aims to help young women like Joyce become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe through education, vocational training and other evidence-based interventions. After enrolling in DREAMS, Joyce received education on gender-based violence, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and joined a dressmaking class through the initiative. 

With skills learned from DREAMS’ entrepreneurial training, she set up a roadside food stand selling roasted corn, sending money to her mother and children back in her village. She managed to save $112 to buy her own sewing machine to start a tailoring business, and hopes to be able to return to school one day.

“I am very happy that I am now independent and prostitution is a history in my life,” says Joyce. “I believe in the future I will be a very successful tailor with big businesses in Mbeya.”

A DREAMS ambassador, Joyce hopes to be able to help other girls and young women in and around her community.

“As an Ambassador, I get the opportunity to make a change in the lives of other girls who are going through the life I once had; a dark life with no guidance and ambition,” she says. “I am happy that the girls I have reached are now able to avoid unwanted pregnancies and prevent themselves from unsafe sex and HIV. I will always be a DREAMS Ambassador inside and outside of Tanzania – helping young girls.”