A young woman smiles for the camera

Maggie Reaches for Her Dreams

How a young Malawian keeps herself and peers HIV-free

Growing up in Malawi, Maggie Medison found herself a teenage mother and dropped out of school to take care of her daughter. She felt hopeless.

“After I fell pregnant and had my baby, I thought that was the end of me,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do anything else in life.”

A group of young women and children
A group of women sit in a circle

But when Maggie discovered the Go Girls! Club, she gained a brighter outlook on her future.

The support group for young women promotes self-empowerment and provides the tools they need to avoid contracting HIV. The group is part of the DREAMS initiative — an acronym that stands for determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe.

A natural leader, Maggie was soon selected to serve as a peer educator. The decision changed her life.

She now leads club meetings and counsels club and community members through discussion, hands-on exercises, and song and dance.

A group of women singing and smiling
A group of women singing and smiling
A young woman stands outside and looks off into the distance

The club inspired her to go back to school. And now Maggie teaches the girls the importance of continuing their education. Three of them followed her example.

“The DREAMS toolkit says you can achieve your dreams,” Maggie said. “I realized that it is possible.”

Women's hands in a medical setting

Maggie also reminds the girls of the risks of contracting HIV and counsels them on how to keep themselves safe.

“I get very happy, because they use a lot of what I teach them,” Maggie said. “When it comes to HIV testing, they go to get tested.”

Maggie, who is fortunate to be HIV-negative, lives her life by example.

“I went and got tested, and I am fine,” Maggie said. “That is what I do before I teach my friends. I cannot tell them to avoid contracting HIV when I am not doing the same. I’m responsible for myself to ensure that I do not contract HIV.”

A young woman consults with a medical professional
A pair of gloved hands performs a blood test
A young woman consults with a medical professional
A woman looks off-camera

Maggie’s mother, Rosemary Solomoni, is proud of her daughter’s work to stop the spread of HIV in her community.

“The help she offers is counseling, like advising them to go to the clinic,” Rosemary said.

The sub-Saharan Africa region remains the hardest hit by HIV and AIDS, where adolescent girls and young women account for nearly 70 percent of all new infections.

While the main goal of the DREAMS initiative is to keep girls and young women AIDS-free, the benefits go well beyond preventing the spread of the disease.

A group of women meets outside a building
A group of women walks down a dirt road
A group of women walk down a dirt road

DREAMS helped empower Maggie to strive for her goals and, in return, she is helping other young women protect themselves from HIV and realize their own dreams.

By training peer educators like Maggie, USAID is empowering countries to become resilient and self-sufficient in their response to HIV/AIDS.

In the distance, a woman holds a baby, with sky and clouds in the background

Maggie intends to pass on what she’s learned to her daughter. “I want to be a role model for my daughter,” Maggie said. “The way I was back then, the old Maggie, without what I now know, I would have suffered to raise this child,” Maggie said. “But with the way I am now, I will raise her very well.”

About This Story

In an effort to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) launched the DREAMS initiative, a public-private partnership, in 2015 to address the structural drivers contributing to the high, disproportionate rate of infections between girls and boys.

In Malawi’s Zomba and Machinga districts, DREAMS has reached over 27,200 adolescent girls and young women in the Go Girls! Clubs.

In total, the initiative targeted 10 countries: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 2017, data showed a decline in new HIV diagnoses among young women in nearly all DREAMS intervention districts in the 10 countries.

With USAID as a key implementer, DREAMS is helping girls become determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe women. The two-year initiative may have come to a close, but as Maggie’s story attests, the ongoing impact of the program is promising.

Photos and video by NAMUH Productions for USAID