Maureen Abur pours the juice she has made for her microenterprise, supported by the URC-implemented DREAMS partnership in a military community in Uganda. Photo credit: URC

In the Mubende and Gulu districts of Northern Uganda, URC plays an active role in changing the trajectory of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) living in two military communities.

Through the DoD Uganda URC Project, URC implements the PEPFAR-supported Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) partnership, working closely with the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) leadership in the Gulu and Mubende military bases to keep AGYW’s between the ages of 10 and 24 from HIV and related risks.

A Chance to Change Course to a Better Life

Maureen Abur enrolled in DREAMS in October 2021 because of her increased risk of HIV infection. She was a 21 year old single parent living with her grandmother. Both her parents are deceased.

Like other DREAMS beneficiaries, Maureen was empowered through the program’s interventions that address the risk of HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and violence. The program also introduced her to financial literacy training and short-term trade skill building to provide her with a path to financial independence.

“The DREAMS educators who came to our community taught us how to generate money and how we can save and the benefits of saving. We were supported to form small savings groups and subsequently we began our group savings scheme.”

Maureen is now a group leader of seven young women in Gulu City in a juice-making microenterprise that they selected. DREAMS provided a startup kit containing a refrigerator, blender, jugs, sieves, and four sacks of fruits, among other supplies.

Before she enrolled in DREAMS, Maureen could not attend school because she could not afford to pay the fees or buy the required supplies and uniform. Today, Maureen is pursuing a certificate in Accounting and Finance.

Peer Educators Identify Vulnerable Beneficiaries

The DoD Uganda URC Project has trained and mentored 30 peer educators to mobilize and conduct household visits, identify vulnerable beneficiaries, and provide HIV and violence prevention education among other life skills trainings.

Maureen explains how she joined DREAMS: “I got enrolled into DREAMS through the peer educators who came into our communities, and they were sensitizing about DREAMS, that’s how I got enrolled. When the peer educators came to our communities, they taught us how to prevent HIV infection, how to prevent domestic violence and how to protect ourselves during sexual intercourse – like using condoms.”

DREAMS Participants Build Lasting Skills

DREAMS delivers services based on beneficiaries’ specific needs and ages, and are either part of the primary, secondary, or contextual activities service interventions. Services in the primary package of interventions target AGYW’s immediate needs, while those in the secondary and contextual packages address other vulnerabilities associated with higher risk of HIV infection.

DREAMS services include:

  • HIV screening, testing, and counseling;
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV prevention education;
  • Improved access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health care and contraceptives;
  • Support for education subsidies;
  • Financial literacy and economic strengthening activities;
  • Post-violence care for survivors of gender-based violence; and
  • Community mobilization to change harmful social norms.

Several curriculum-based resiliency-building interventions are used, including Aflateen, SINOVUYO, Stepping Stones, and Journey Plus.

Graduation – The Opportunity of a Healthy, Independent Life

DREAMS program completion occurs when an individual AGYW has completed all primary and relevant secondary core package interventions based on her unique needs, HIV risk, and age. URC ensures that all beneficiaries above 15 years of age and out of school identify microenterprises and income generating activities based on the context, market surveys, and guidance provided during individual and group financial literacy sessions.

Maureen describes her microenterprise: “I chose fruit juice making as my income generating activity because I found out that it’s profitable and where I live there’s no such business. We are making passion fruit and avocado juice. Initially we made several types of juices, passion fruit mango, avocado, and watermelon juice. Within the first month we noticed most people’s preference was passion fruit and avocado juice. We have now zeroed down on these two types of juices.”

Participating in DREAMS provides vulnerable AGYW with tools and support that decrease their vulnerability to HIV infection and strengthen their resiliency, starting a path for participants to build a healthier life for themselves.

For Maureen, the benefits of the program extend beyond health – into her success and individual development.

Thanks to the education and support received through DREAMS, Maureen now has the skills needed to save money and meet her basic needs. She is currently studying without financial barriers. Together, Maureen’s microenterprise envisions expanding to open more branches in the future.

Maureen shares her vision for the microenterprise, “In 2 years’ time, we think we should get our personal land as a group, and we should expand the business to different villages.”

Between October 2021 and September 2022, 1,416 out-of-school AGYW were provided with short term microenterprises including piggery, poultry, tailoring, goats-rearing, popcorn-making, juice making, soap making and agricultural produce.

The DoD Uganda URC project continues to support the AGYW’s microenterprises by working with the military leadership and districts to link them to the available markets for their products.