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Eggplant Blossoms in the Nick of Time: From School Dropout to a Businesswoman

At just 22, Henriette Mukanoheri's world seemed to crumble around her. She was a junior in high school with dreams of a more prosperous life, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to stop her education. She returned home during the school closure, only to find herself facing many problems caused by her fathers polygamy. To help the family, she took up sewing, and tried her best to make do with the little resources and opportunities she could find.

She received the news of schools opening up after the pandemic with indifference: for her, the return to school was impossible. By then, she was pregnant and struggling to keep up with expenses. Her pregnancy out of wedlock didn’t sit well with the family: both her mother and her sister distanced themselves from Henriette, leaving her to fend for herself.

In search of a fresh start, Henriette ventured to Kigali from her native Rusizi. The reality that greeted her was far from the sanctuary she had envisioned: alone, jobless, and without any support, she faced the daunting task of navigating life with her child in a new city.

Henriette's fortunes began to change with the PEPFAR-funded DREAMS program that is designed to take in vulnerable young women and provide them with comprehensive services, including HIV prevention and reproductive health education services, training and economic empowerment support. Determined to find a way to provide for herself and her child, Henriette embraced this opportunity. She attended the training sessions and joined the group meetings in safe spaces. She met other girls and young women in situations like hers, and they encouraged each other as they learned about sexual and reproductive health, staying safe from HIV/AIDS, using positive parenting to raise their children, and starting small businesses to generate a steady stream of income.

2023 marked a turning point for Henriette. Thanks to the US $70 (RWF 70,000) she received from USAID thanks to this project, Henriette was able to invest in growing her small eggplant production business.

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