Figure Above: D.R.E.A.M.S club meeting in progress at Keffi, Nasarawa State.
Girls below the age of 18 in Nigeria face challenges such as harmful cultural practices, gender-based violence, early marriage, early pregnancy and exploitation. These harms deter and limit them from achieving their full potentials. To promote gender equity and advocate for social change in the community, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) with funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is implementing a project to bring girls together in clubs. The goal of the D.R.E.A.M.S girls club is to groom girls to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS Free, Mentored and Safe.
In five LGAs, IHVN is working with community based organizations to establish clubs, which serve as safe spaces in the community for girls to thrive, be visible, honored and respected. According to IHVN Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Lead, Mrs. Jummai Musa, the initiative is making a huge difference for girls because they are being empowered with knowledge, as well as skills to guide them on a path towards accomplishing their goals and meeting their needs. More than 385 girls are now enrolled in D.R.E.A.M.S clubs in Nasarawa State.
“The goal of the initiative is achieving a better future for the girls by investing in them,” Mrs. Musa said.
The meetings are held at least once a month and are facilitated using the Mental Health & Well Being for Adolescent Girls and Young Women Manual, and Adolescent Girls Community Guide Manual. They discuss topics such as Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs) and HIV/AIDS, sexual abstinence, self-esteem, resilience, and financial education. The sessions are made interactive and fun through dramatization, storytelling, recitation of poems and co-facilitation. The girls are also assigned a role model from either a school or within the community to mentor them.
IHVN OVC Senior Program Officer, Safia Sani, said that during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, “girls who participate in D.R.E.A.M.S clubs were able to connect with their caregivers to discuss sexual reproductive health issues because they were empowered to do so. The capacity of the girls are being built to transfer the knowledge received to their siblings, friends & neighbors for a wider reach in their communities. The girls can speak out and are not afraid to be heard.
We have schools clamoring for the program, we have students eager to join the club and schools initiating sensitization talks on important topics, all due to our D.R.E.A.M.S program,” she said.
Mr. Leonard Chinweike, is the head of Social Science Department at GSS Tudun Gwandara, one of the schools with the D.R.E.A.M.S girls clubs. He said that he has seen the impact of the club in his school. “Through the club, the students are doing extraordinary things to improve the standard of education. The show of humility, wisdom, dedication and kindness has led them to the right path. They are inspired academically.”
16-year-old David Goodness who lives in Agwan Sabo is one of the D.R.E.A.M girls. She said that since she started attending the club in October 2020, she is now more confident and able to communicate with her parents.
“Before now I wasn’t free with people and I didn’t know how to talk to adults, even my parents. At home, I couldn’t relate freely with them but through the club, I learnt how to talk with my parents any time I am having any problem with my personal life. I used to have low self-esteem, I was shy and couldn’t talk in public but through the club, I learnt how to talk without being discouraged and being afraid. I can talk to adults and ask them about some questions,” she said.
For 17-year-old Benedicta Addra, the club is helping her to be more respectful to her parents and concentrate more on her studies. “I used to go out with my friends and indulge in bad things. I gained knowledge on the effect of teenage pregnancy through the club and I have decided to change my ways. I have started concentrating on my studies and avoiding bad friends so that I can achieve my goals. I am also able to guide and advice my peers,” she said.
Sunday Martha who attends D.R.E.A.M.S club in Akwanga said that she has been empowered to make the right decisions with helpful skills.
“The club that changed my life for good. Before, I did not know about abstinence but now I know that it is the safest way of preventing us from HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancy. I choose to abstain.”
D.R.E.A.M.S, which is targeted at the girl child, is stimulating change in the community one girl at the time. According to IHVN OVC Senior Program Officer, Safia Sani, the implementation of the program since October 2019 has granted IHVN the opportunity to see to it that no girl or young woman is left behind.