After waking up at dawn, Lydia Shilongo (22) opens her kiosk selling breakfast to community members on their way to work in the mining town of Tsumeb in northern Namibia.
She enjoys cooking and serving her clients, and has fun learning the different expressions/names her customers have given her dishes, with some referring to her chicken feet delicacy as ‘Kuvukiland KFC’, named after the nearby informal settlement and the world’s famous Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
Shilongo is dedicating all her energy to growing her business.
“My dream is to own 10 restaurants all over Namibia one day, and to employ many other vulnerable young women,” she envisioned.
On average, she makes a profit of N$2 200 per month, which allows her to contribute to her niece’s schooling and pay for food and electricity.
Shilongo and her siblings are familiar with the informal food market, as they have been selling snacks and fruits during their school holidays since childhood to generate some income.
However, the tragic passing of their mother, the only breadwinner at home, in March 2020, pushed them to the verge of sinking into extreme poverty. DREAMS Business Start-Up Kit came just on time for the family.
DREAMS stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe.
Funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme through USAID, the DREAMS initiative aims to prevent HIV infections among vulnerable adolescent girls and young women like Shilongo.
“I learnt about the programme from a DREAMS nurse while receiving HIV testing services and soon joined a Safe Space group with 16 other adolescent girls and young women, who call their group ‘Queen Empowered’,” shared Shilongo.
She is wholeheartedly grateful for the assistance as she is now able to provide for her family. The DREAMS initiative has been providing support services in Namibia’s Khomas, Oshikoto and Zambezi regions since 2017, and to date has helped 123 adolescent girls and young women with Business Start-Up Kits.
The programme has since been expanded to Oshana and Kavango West, which will triple the number of women supported to 64 000 by the end of this year.
Food-based businesses are supported with appliances ranging from fryers, microwaves and fridges to pots, plates, and cutlery, while other small enterprises receive nail manicure kits, make-up products, sewing machines and other equipment.
Beneficiaries also receive social and healthcare services, HIV prevention education, and financial literacy training.
In addition to that, DREAMS also help these young women find jobs or start their own business - and Shilongo’s kiosk is but one example.