Yemurai* was 15 years old when her parents married her off to a polygamous church elder. The expectations of the church and the community were too much for her. She could not understand why she was not in school when her primary school teachers always commented her for her intelligence and hard work. Although she wanted escape from this forced marriage, Yemurai had nowhere to go.

Now at the age of 20 years, Yemurai is a mother of 3 children, her husband is unemployed and she has to fend for the family. “Life has always been difficult for me. I struggled to take care of my children. On the other hand society judged me for dropping out of school and marrying at a young age. They did not understand that whatever happened to me was not out of choice. I also wanted to enjoy my childhood, going to school with my peers.”

Yemurai was identified by the DREAMS out of school club Facilitator who took her time to explain the project to her. “Everything that the Facilitator said excited me. I joined the project with the determination to improve my life. The young mothers I met at the club were motivated and they encouraged me to believe in myself.”

Yemurai participated in the HIV and sexual violence prevention and Gender norms sessions which enlighted her on her rights. Through these sessions, the young mother realized that she was at high risk of contracting HIV due to her polygamous situation; she appreciated the need for regular HIV testing. The Facilitator referred her to DREAMS partners where she accessed HIV and family planning services.

“The services that I received empowered me to take control of my health. I regularly use self test kits to check my HIV status. These proved to be convenient to me as my region discourages any visits to health facilities. I also opted to use depo provera for family planning, again for its convenience.”

The DREAMS project offered Yemurai the golden opportunity to be trained in economic strengthening activities. She went through the ISAL training and joined her peers in one ISAL group where she borrowed money to start buying and selling dinner plates and ladies foot ware.

Yemurai sees a bright future ahead, and has great plans for her children. “I see potential in this business and I hope to grow it to a big enterprise. All my children will go school, I want them to excel and be an inspiration in our church!”

*Not real name