Girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. For this reason, we are committed to DREAMS. DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) is an ambitious public-private partnership that aims to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in the highest HIV burden countries, including Zambia and Kenya, where we work.

In Kenya, in addition to training teachers in gender- equitable instructions, girls from Nairobi’s sprawling slums are matched up with student mentors from the university of Nairobi.

Earlier this year, we highlighted some of the inspiring stories of the girls enrolled in DREAMS. In their personal stories one thing emerged that was common- the importance and positive impact of their mentors. One of the most important resources of our DREAMS program are the dedicated and inspiring mentors that support the participants.

These are the young women and men – many who are members of the communities they serve – who dedicate a part of their lives to supporting and inspiring change in adolescent girls and young women. These mentors offer the girls someone they can talk to and ask questions of – ultimately, someone they can look up to. 

Today, we would like to recognize one of our many inspiring mentors. Her name is Zoyler Simiyu. Below she reflects on her experience as a mentor and why it matters.

Meet Zoyler Simiyu

Zoyler Simiyu

“Time is Now, Press for Progress.” – slogan from the 2018 International Women’s Day campaign. This photo is a part of a series celebrating DREAMS mentors in Kenya, in recognition of International Women’s day.

My name is Zoyler Namikoye Simiyu. I am 22 years old and I grew up in small town in western Kenya.

“The girls I work with have beautiful souls and they are hidden behind a wall of fear.”

I come from a small family of six and growing up, I hated being a girl. I believed I was supposed to be a boy. I saw myself as a weaker being. My adolescent stage was full of mixed emotions since I was trying to figure out the world, as well as the kind of person I was.

I have always been passionate about working with young girls. I understand the impact of growing up without a mentor and figuring things out by yourself. When the opportunity presented itself, I was more than happy to be chosen as a mentor.

This work has become part of my life. It has changed my perspective on life and current affairs. I am more aware of people and the community at large. If I could go back in time I wish I could have been part of DREAMS as an adolescent girl.

The girls I work with have beautiful souls and they are hidden behind a wall of fear. They fear that when they speak out, no one listens. But, most of all they fear if they achieve more than what is expected, they will not have the means to sustain it.

Lucky is a student at one of the schools where I serve. When we started the program, she was too shy to say her name. Now she cannot stop raising her hand in class. The growth in confidence levels inspires me to do better, so that more girls can be like her, or even better!

My dream for the girls in this community is for them to access education up to the university level. This will change their lives for the better.

All this matters because, if you empower a woman you empower the whole community. I really believe that when we invest in girls we can really change the world.

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