US-funded DREAMS programme breaks down barriers

Gerine Hoff
Namibia has one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in southern Africa, but more than 40 per cent of the youth are unemployed - nearly three times as many as the global average – and according to the National Planning Commission of Namibia, this number is growing.
It is critical that young women in Namibia are able to learn skills to help them succeed in Namibia’s difficult job market. Woodwork is predominantly male-dominated, but young women in Katima Mulilo, Zambezi region, are now receiving the necessary training to change that through the US government-sponsored DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) programme.
Through DREAMS, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), promotes economic empowerment among adolescent girls and young women at risk of contracting HIV.
Financial independence reduces the likelihood that adolescent girls and young women will turn to transactional sex which spreads HIV to sustain themselves. USAID Namibia has reached over 175 000 adolescent girls and young women with services to empower them and help prevent HIV including improved access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment services as well as skills to prevent and address gender-based violence.
In Katima Mulilo, four young women who are part of the DREAMS program, implemented by Project HOPE Namibia, completed a six-month training in joinery and cabinet making at the Zambezi Vocational Training Centre. After the training, the women were selected for an internship at a woodwork workshop in their community.
“We learned how to make large items such as beds, tables, and doors, and also how to use power tools to complete bigger jobs,” says Ruth Zambwe, one of the young women who received the training.
During the internship, they also learned how to convert readily available and inexpensive materials and turn them into furniture such as couches and chairs. Marlene Nyama, another graduate, says she had no work experience before the internship and had to learn about professionalism and workplace communication on the job.
Petrus Simataa, the owner of the woodwork shop and mentor, worked with the young women to better understand their needs and has since provided accommodation for them to ensure they can fulfil their responsibilities at home and at work.
“Mentors like Petrus are critical for the success of the DREAMS programme,” says Bernadette Harases, head of the DREAMS programme at Project HOPE Namibia. “These young women are learning skills in a safe and supportive professional environment and because of their success, other young women will now have the chance to enter this field.”
Marlene completes woodwork jobs with a friend who is currently receiving training at the Zambezi Vocational Training Centre. They make cupboards, coffee tables, shoe racks and other cabinetry. Through her woodwork projects, Marlene can buy toiletries and groceries for herself and her parents.
“I hope to gain more professional exposure in my trade, with the goal of starting and running a successful business in my hometown. I want to be a positive role model to other young women in general – and especially in a male-dominated industry like joinery,” says Marlene.