What Dreams May Come:
Why We Need to Invest in Adolescent Girls

Feeding Minds and Fighting Hunger Among Schoolgirls in Tanzania

Her Chance to Shine:
Empowering Adolescent Girls to Fight Human Trafficking

Stitch by Stitch:
Helping Girls in India Set Themselves Up for Success

Ensuring a Healthy Start and Future for Guatemala’s Next Generation of Leaders

‘The Future Belongs to Us’

Untapped Potential:
Addressing the Need for Safe Water and Sanitation in Tanzania’s Schools

It Takes a Village:
Communities Making Nicaragua Safer for Adolescent Girls

About Project Concern International (PCI)

PCI is a global development organization that believes in the power of local insight, innovation and collaboration to sustain meaningful change in people’s lives.

Building on the existing potential within people, we empower communities to enhance health, end hunger, overcome hardship, and advance women and girls.

With your attention and action, we can accelerate positive change from the ground up, for enduring impact around the globe.

#LetHerDream Project Credits


STORY 1: “What Dreams May Come: Why We Need to Invest in Adolescent Girls”
Steve Adams – Slides 8 and 12; Jeffrey Brown – Slides 1, 6 and 16; Jessica Chen – Slides 5 and 17; iStock – Slide 4; Mark O’Donnell – Slide 18; PCI Staff – Slides 7, 11 and 19; Chris Saul – Slide 15; Summer Williams – Slides 2, 3, 10 and 13; Elise Zable – Slide 9

STORY 2: “Feeding Minds and Fighting Hunger Among Schoolgirls in Tanzania”
Chris Cymbalak – Slide 2; Blanca Lomeli – Slide 4

STORY 3: “Her Chance to Shine: Empowering Adolescent Girls to Fight Human Trafficking in San Diego”
Steve Adams – Slides 1, 6 and 7; Shutterstock – Slides 2 and 4

STORY 4: “Stitch by Stitch: Helping Girls in India Set Themselves Up for Success”
Steve Adams – Slides 4-13; 16-18; Jeffrey Brown – Slides 1-2

STORY 5: “Ensuring a Healthy Start and Future for Guatemala’s Next Generation of Leaders”
Gesler Castillo – Slide 7; Natalie Lovenburg – Slide 1; Amy Ostrander – Slide 4; Fiorella Perini – Slides 2 and 5

STORY 6: “The Future Belongs to Us”
Jeffrey Brown – Slide 13; Nancy Cermeno – Slides 2 and 12; Ashley Dittmar – Slide 3; Kamila Henne – Slide 10; PCI Staff – Slides 1, 5, 6 and 15; Peg Ross – Slide 14; Janine Schooley – Slide 8

STORY 7: “Untapped Potential: Addressing the Need for Safe Water and Sanitation in Tanzania’s Schools”
Jessica Chen – Slide 5; Hillary Dashina – Slides 2, 3, 7, 11, 15-16, 21; Elfrida Kumalija – Slide 14; Blanca Lomeli – Slides 4, 6, 9, 12-13, 20; Yvonne Mwakisyala – Slide 19; PCI Staff – Slides 1 and 18

STORY 8: “It Takes a Village: Communities Making Nicaragua Safer for Adolescent Girls”
Reyna Lisseth Gutiérrez Centeno – Slide 10; Xochilt Tamara López – Slide 8; Tania Elizabeth Blandón Muñoz – Slide 9; Summer Williams – Slides 2-5; 12-21; 23-26

Additional site photography
Jeffrey Brown, Jessica Chen, Fiorella Perini, Chris Saul


Interactive Media Group, Bonnie Maratea


STORY 2: “Feeding Minds and Fighting Hunger Among Schoolgirls in Tanzania”
Videographer/Editor: Chris Cymbalak

STORY 3: “Her Chance to Shine: Empowering Adolescent Girls to Fight Human Trafficking in San Diego”
Videographer/Editor: Lucas Williams

STORY 6: “The Future Belongs to Us”
Videographer: Peg Ross; Editor: Lucas Williams

STORY 7: “Untapped Potential: Addressing the Need for Safe Water and Sanitation in Tanzania’s Schools”
Videographer: Blanca Lomeli; Editor: Bonnie Maratea

STORY 8: “It Takes a Village: Communities Making Nicaragua Safer for Adolescent Girls”
Videographer: Lucas Williams; Editors: Lucas Williams, Bonnie Maratea


Jessica Ayala


Maureen Simpson, Ashley Williams, Nancy Cermeno, Jessica Chen, Rajshree Das, Wilfred Donath, Stephanie Gaffney, Amy Hansen, Naomi Kalogwile, Amithay Kuhanda, Elfrida Kumalija, Ruth Kundecha, Molly Lam, Samuel Lau, Blanca Lomeli, Natalie Lovenburg, Bianca Morales-Egan, Raquel Reyes, Janet Ruiz, Kanara Seth and Martha Zembeni


Kanara Seth, Molly Lam, Tiffany Le-Pham


Bonnie Maratea


STORY 1: “What Dreams May Come: Why We Need to Invest in Adolescent Girls”
International Center for Research on Women
UNESCO Institute for Statistics
United Nations Population Fund

STORY 2: “Feeding Minds and Fighting Hunger Among Schoolgirls in Tanzania”
UNESCO Institute for Statistics
U.S. Agency for International Development

STORY 3: “Her Chance to Shine: Empowering Adolescent Girls to Fight Human Trafficking in San Diego”
Carpenter, A. C. and Gates, J. (2016). The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County. San Diego, CA: University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Innocence Lost National Initiative
International Labour Organization
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
U.S. Department of State, The Facts About Child Sex Tourism: 2005

STORY 4: “Stitch by Stitch: Helping Girls in India Set Themselves Up for Success”
Girl Up, United Nations Foundation

STORY 5: “Ensuring a Healthy Start and Future for Guatemala’s Next Generation of Leaders”
Girl Up, United Nations Foundation
U.S. Agency for International Development
USAID, “Guatemala: Nutrition Profile”

STORY 6: “The Future Belongs to Us”
DREAMS Partnership
Girl Up, United Nations Foundation
The United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

STORY 7: “Untapped Potential: Addressing the Need for Safe Water and Sanitation in Tanzania’s Schools”
Population Services International, “Menstrual Hygiene Management”

STORY 8: “It Takes a Village: Communities Making Nicaragua Safer for Adolescent Girls”
Girl Up, United Nations Foundation

About the Issue

Women and girls are powerful agents of change in their communities. Yet, gender inequities often prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Adolescent girls, in particular, face serious challenges related to discrimination, violence and exploitation that limit their freedom to learn, thrive and live on their own terms.

That’s why we’re committed to creating safe and empowering spaces where girls have access to the education, health care and resources they need to build the futures they deserve.

Discover what is possible when we #LetHerDream through stories about PCI’s work across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Story One

What Dreams May Come:
Why We Need to Invest in Adolescent Girls

By Maureen Simpson

I once asked a refugee father, new to the United States, what excited him most about his daughter being able to attend school for the first time.

While many parents in his position often answer, “She will finally learn English” or “She will finally learn how to read and write,” he tearfully replied…

“She will finally be able to sleep at night.”

He explained how his child had been cast aside in their home country due to two inherent “strikes” against her:

She was a girl, and she had a physical disability.

As a result, no one besides him believed she was worthy of attention or had anything of value to contribute.

She spent her days alone in a wheelchair with no real stimulation or opportunities for learning and would lie awake at night—restless, frustrated and crying.

Her story is uniquely hers but not unlike the experiences of girls across the globe who are treated like second-class citizens because of their bodies and their gender.

While the world begins to open up for boys during adolescence, girls face a whole new set of challenges and restrictions that deny them the chance to realize and reach their full potential.

According to UNESCO,
130 million girls around the world are missing from classrooms.

Some live in countries affected by conflict or disaster, where their schools have been reduced to rubble or remain indefinitely closed.

Others are assigned from birth to take on household chores instead of studies and to prepare themselves for marriage and motherhood—often before they turn 18 years old.

Nearly one quarter of adolescent girls worldwide have been victims of physical violence by the time they are 15. Source: UNICEF

And globally, young women are 1.6 times more likely to be living with HIV than young men.
Source: United Nations Population Fund

Simply put, their bodies are battlegrounds, and it’s up to us to protect their right to a healthy childhood and future.

From addressing gender-based violence and the threat of human trafficking to creating safe and healthy spaces where they can learn the skills they need to survive and thrive…

PCI supports families and communities in 18 countries to empower girls to take control of their health, education, well-being and livelihoods.

Because if they’re able to sleep at night—secure in the knowledge of who they are and where they are going—they’re able to dream at night.

And those dreams become visions that can ultimately transform our world.

And those dreams become visions that can ultimately transform our world.

Follow along as PCI explores what is possible when we #LetHerDream.

Story Two

Feeding Minds and Fighting Hunger Among Schoolgirls in Tanzania

By Maureen Simpson

The sight of Violet eating a healthy lunch at school used to be as unpredictable as her presence in the classroom.

Infographic about education for girls across Sub-Saharan Africa
Infographic about adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries

Now, Violet is one of more than 280,000 students worldwide who receives a daily school meal through PCI’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Infographic for food security in Tanzania

Find out about the difference one meal can make in the life of an adolescent girl who is hungry to learn.

Story Three

Her Chance to Shine:
Empowering Adolescent Girls to Fight Human Trafficking

By Kanara Seth

There are an estimated 40 million human trafficking victims across the world, many of them being women and girls. And in the United States, one in every six women and girls will be a victim of sexual assault at some point in their lives.

In San Diego, there’s no neighborhood that remains untouched by human trafficking. The underground sex industry in San Diego County generates $810 million annually, and the FBI ranks San Diego among the top 13 U.S. cities with the highest incidences of child sex trafficking.

Through the Girls Only! program, PCI works with San Diego schools and community organizations to teach girls ages 8-15 about the signs and risk factors of human trafficking.

The goal is to prevent them from getting involved with drugs, gangs, sex trafficking and the criminal justice system by building their self-esteem and empowering them to make healthy choices.

Meet Bernadete Leal, a Girls Only! Facilitator, and learn more about how this after-school intervention keeps adolescent girls in San Diego safe and resilient.

Story Four

Stitch by Stitch:
Helping Girls in India Set Themselves Up for Success

By Maureen Simpson

The New Seemapuri area of Delhi, India, is a literal wasteland of potential, where scores of children—primarily girls—spend their days digging through trash.

As “ragpickers,” their job is to collect items that can be recycled for what amounts to pennies. And their families rely on these small contributions to survive.

Recognizing the ways in which this burden keeps girls out of school and trapped in poverty, PCI opened a vocational training center to give them a safe place to learn marketable new skills.

In addition to taking classes in dressmaking, tailoring and computer technology, students work with mentors to build their confidence, critical thinking and communication skills.

PCI then helps them to secure interviews and apprenticeships and brings potential employers to speak to individuals and classes.

The center is known as DISHA, which means “direction” in Hindi. For over a decade, it has given girls like Ruksana the chance to stitch together a better life.

Like many girls in New Seemapuri, Ruksana comes from a poor family and has never set foot inside a classroom. Her father is a scrap dealer and her mother is a housewife.

“Being a big family, I have to support in household chores,” says Ruksana, who is one of six children—three boys and three girls.

Reasons include everything from being forced to do household chores and take care of their siblings to child marriage and pregnancy.

Even though Ruksana stays at home so her sisters can continue their education, she wants more for herself than the life many in Seemapuri assume is enough for women and girls.

She learned about PCI’s vocational training center through community mobilizers performing outreach activities in her neighborhood. These educators work to break down societal barriers that would otherwise prevent families from educating their daughters.

After completing her training at the center through a project called Saksham, which means ‘capable’ in Hindi, Ruksana started her own business at home and makes 6,000 rupees a month.

“Now I can earn and save money for my future,” Ruksana says. “PCI gave me the confidence.”

Story Five

Ensuring a Healthy Start and Future for Guatemala’s Next Generation of Leaders

By Maureen Simpson

Young students must have good nutrition to stay healthy and engaged in learning. Yet, globally, children face food insecurity daily.

Passport Story 05: Ensuring A Healthy Start - Slide 05

In Guatemala, the problem is so severe that it has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world. Girls and boys living in indigenous areas of the country are particularly vulnerable to the effects, which include stunted growth and development.

If girls are born malnourished and become stunted as children, the cycle repeats itself through young women who do not get the nutrition they need during pregnancy and give birth to malnourished babies.

Passport Story 05: Ensuring A Healthy Start - Slide 07

PCI is working to combat hunger and malnutrition through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Passport Story 05: Ensuring A Healthy Start - Slide 08

Learn what a healthy school meal can bring to life for adolescent girls like Ana, who represent Guatemala’s greatest hope for a better future.

Story Six

The Future Belongs to Us

Ruth Kundecha
Maureen Simpson

Elsie Banda wants to be an accountant one day, but six letters have her attention right now.

The alphabetic combination might seem simple, or even trite, to some, but for Elsie and more than 5,300 other girls in Malawi, D-R-E-A-M-S spells out a battle cry.

PCI Malawi’s DREAMS program is a global initiative of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The goal of DREAMS is to help adolescent girls like Elsie develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe women.

“People think I am very quiet, but that does not mean that I am shy,” says Elsie, who credits DREAMS with giving her the courage to speak up and out.

She joined the program at her school two years ago and now serves as a DREAMS ambassador to support other girls who are experiencing challenges.

“I was not sure if I was going to like [DREAMS], but when I followed the teachings, I understood that these are the issues that will help shape the person I will become in the future,” she says. “I went home and told my sister, and she encouraged me to continue attending.”

As a 13-year-old girl growing up in one of the world’s least developed countries, Elsie is navigating a particularly vulnerable time in life.

To compound an already difficult situation, she has no mother or father at home to help guide her.

“I have never had the chance to see my mother since I was 4 years old when she left to follow my dad to South Africa,” Elsie says. “… I would have loved to let her tell me how it was like growing up in those days—the challenges she faced as a young girl my age and if things are the way they appear now.”

Infographic about HIV+ and girls in Malawi

Poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, orphanhood and a lack of education all contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV.

The DREAMS program helps address these issues and gaps through weekly group and individual mentoring sessions as well as access to health care, social services, education support and post-violence counseling.

To date, PCI Malawi has reached 5,311 adolescent girls in and out-of-school through the DREAMS mentorship program. The project has also linked 1,975 girls to HIV testing and counseling; more than 502 to screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections; 234 to family planning services; and 87 to screenings for cervical cancer.

“[DREAMS] is important to young women in Malawi, because it provides adolescent girls with their own safe space to discuss issues that affect them, join hands with peers and speak against violence, and access resources to continue with their education,” says Ruth Kundecha, DREAMS Coordinator for PCI Malawi.

Even though Elsie enjoys going to school, she acknowledges girls face many challenges inside the classroom as well.

“I do not like it when the teachers underestimate us girls and make us look unworthy of their time. They believe girls cannot perform and outsmart the boys. Some teachers also think that because I am a girl then I cannot make it to the top of the class. I wish the teachers would understand that if we all work hard, we can be whatever we desire to become.”

The lessons Elsie has valued most from her time in the DREAMS program are the need to be resilient and to set goals.

“Life is full of problems,” she says. “There are times as people we have to accept the situation that we find ourselves in, because it is temporary. [We have to] work hard to change the future, because the future belongs to us.”

As for how adults in the community can support adolescent girls and teenagers, Elsie says: “We have some things that we would like to understand better, and sometimes when there is no one to talk to some people will resort to other things. … Parents need to be talking to their children freely. Answer all of their questions, and they would not have to deal with all the problems that are out there.”

When Elsie first joined PCI Malawi’s DREAMS program, she was “so full of fear I was not able to stand before my friends to talk.” See the difference this club of empowered girls made in her life by watching her confidently perform a skit in front of PCI staff.

Story Seven

Untapped Potential:
Addressing the Need for Safe Water and Sanitation in Tanzania’s Schools

Maureen Simpson

Yvonne Mwakisyala, 28, understands firsthand how access to clean water and sanitation is critical to keeping girls healthy, safe and on track with their education.

“My mum makes a joke that I hated dirty floors so much as a child that I never crawled and moved straight to walking. I just never thought this could be a career, even while I was pursuing my degree in Civil Engineering. My path was just about combining the two things I loved into one job—clean environments and construction.”

Although she grew up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, Yvonne’s public school experience was similar to the students she now serves in the rural Mara Region.

“In primary school, I studied in almost the same conditions,” she says. “We wore the same uniforms, we were too many students in one classroom. The only difference was my parents could afford giving us lunch money and buying me different books to expand my view of the world and education.”

Yvonne’s work is part of PCI Tanzania’s U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded McGovern Dole Food for Education Program.

In addition to providing daily school meals for more than 168,000 students in 256 schools, the program aims to promote good health and hygiene practices among teachers, parents and students. That’s where Yvonne fits in.

As a construction officer, her job is to help schools in dire need of safe water and sanitation facilities. She designs and supervises construction projects that include everything from gender-specific bathrooms to water harvesting tanks.

Unsafe school conditions don’t just interfere with students’ abilities to learn but can also jeopardize their health and lead to poor attendance.

Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of unsanitary and ill-equipped school environments.

As a woman, Yvonne says she brings a unique and necessary perspective to her field of work that directly addresses this issue.

“My most memorable project has been the construction of female toilets that have a room where girls can go and clean themselves during their menstrual cycle and for it to actually have running water in it tapped from the roof during the rainy seasons.”

“I know it’s a very small detail, but because most of these designs are done by men, they just assume you go in there and change your clothes,” Yvonne says. “Now our PCI-built female latrines have water in the room. Girls can clean themselves and wash their reusable pads instead of missing school on those days.”

Since 2016, PCI Tanzania has distributed 5,800 menstrual hygiene kits with reusable sanitary pads to adolescent girls in local schools.

Additionally, 156 health teachers and 255 volunteer student aides have attended trainings on adolescence and puberty, menstruation, HIV prevention and risky behaviors.

While building school bathrooms and ensuring access to clean water is a significant part of Yvonne’s job, her work does not end when construction is complete.

Educating students, parents and other community members about how to properly use and maintain these facilities and services is another critical—and fulfilling—piece.

“It gives me great joy to see the changes in behavior it brings to people. Plus, I really enjoy working with children, because they have room to learn and adapt new behavior in their lives compared to the adults.”

Yvonne says most of the communities near the schools she works with have started valuing the importance of having a good and clean latrine, even in their homes, which was not an easy feat to accomplish.

“Most of these children are from pastoralist and fisherman,” she explains. “Pastoralists move a lot and do not settle in one area, so they do not see the point of building latrines everywhere they go.”

“And for the families that live near the lakes, most of them just defecate in the lake and do not see the point of having proper latrines in their homes or contributing to a latrine for the schools their children are attending.”

This is an example of a common water source used by one of the local communities.

“I believe there will be a whole generation of young people that will have a better chance at education and hence a chance at better opportunities in life because of the impact this program will have in my country,” Yvonne says.

“I am more than glad to share my expertise…”

“The fact that I am at the core of ensuring these children have safe water, less water-borne diseases and attend school more makes me go to sleep feeling like a safe water superhero.”

Hear from students who are benefiting from PCI’s efforts to make schools in Tanzania a healthier place to learn.

This girls choir delivered an impromptu performance for staff members during a school site visit.

The song, which is in Swahili, is an expression of gratitude for improvements made to their school, including the establishment of a library and water tank.

Story Eight

It Takes a Village:
Communities Making Nicaragua Safer for Adolescent Girls

by Ashley Williams

Nicaragua’s expansive Caribbean coast and border with Honduras are at the forefront of the country’s struggle with the drug trade.

PCI’s POSsibilities (Peace, Opportunity, Security) Project in Nicaragua focuses on building leadership to educate and empower neighborhoods to combat the threats of drugs and violence.

Concerned citizens are working to take back their communities and make them safer, which can open a world of opportunity for girls.

“I have one dream, that is to help the young boys and girls from my neighborhood.”

Shanara, 23, is a youth promoter working to educate young people on living safer, healthier lives. She goes into the neighborhood, builds connections with youth and talks to them about issues like violence and substance abuse. Shanara is one of 584 youth trained as lead advocates in promoting citizen security, who have in turn trained over 3,800 other youth and community members. Shanara’s role as a leader serves as an example for younger adolescent girls and helps make their neighborhood a safer place to learn and grow.

“PCI’s project has influenced my life in a very significant way, since it trained me to become a leader to serve my community and provided me with many experiences and skills which have been very useful in my everyday life. Besides, I now have the most valuable tool, which is knowledge, and I work to share that knowledge with other youth in my community and school, involving the different citizen security topics addressed by the project. More than a responsibility, it is my commitment and a pleasure for me to share this knowledge with my peers; this knowledge has been the source of my empowerment, as it helped me develop new skills for life. The POSsibilities project has been an opportunity for us to build a better, safer and more empowered community and society overall.”

-Xochilt Tamara López, 19

“The POSsibilities project has had a positive impact on adolescents and youth in my community of El Hormiguero by providing us training on topics that are very useful for us at our age—
especially aimed at preventing drug use—through activities such as educational and recreational talks. … PCI has provided us with sports and recreational equipment as well as training to improve our communications skills, allowing us to share these important topics with other youth and adolescents.”

-Tania Elizabeth Blandón Muñoz, 18

“Project POSsibilities impacted children and adolescents from this community in a transcendental way, allowing us to share our experiences and see the virtue of leading a different, better life for ourselves and our communities, a life full of respect, culture, games and above all, love. This will help us move our community of Madriguera forward.”

-Reyna Lisseth Gutiérrez Centeno, 17

Youth can’t focus on their education when they fear for their safety.

It takes a community coming together to create a secure place for adolescent girls to thrive. PCI’s POSsibilities Project connects local business owners, community committee members, schools and universities to make the region safer.

Apolinar owns an automotive parts store and takes great pride in his business’s role in community safety projects through POSsibilities, including installing street lights.

Pitch black streets in the neighborhood became a hangout for drug users and made it unsafe to be out after dark. These lights have been a simple way to deter drug use and violence.

Now children can play on illuminated streets…

… and young people can more safely walk home at night.

A key part to implementing these projects are community security committees. These groups are trained through POSsibilities to initiate and manage projects that improve local safety.

The projects can be small and still have a meaningful impact. This simple bridge may not look like much, but it created a new route for students to get to school during the rainy season. Now they can avoid the busier main road and get to school safely.

This school director is excited about the impact POSsibilities is having in her community. Funding from the project is helping to build a new classroom for her school.

The classroom will allow for a new high school grade level that they previously didn’t have space to offer. That means more adolescent girls will have access to education.

Giving adolescent girls safe places to learn unlocks their potential to prosper and can change their families’ lives.

POSsibilities also partners with a local university to offer a diploma program that encourages youth involvement. Students mapped security risks prevalent in different parts of the community and created proposals to tackle an issue.

Dixie, a university employee who is in charge of the academic partnership with PCI, says some students have taken their projects from the classroom to the community and are working to implement them.

Adolescent girls who live in safe communities that are full of support are better equipped to complete their education. These girls are free to dream beyond the limits of their hardships and become strong, healthy women who can continue to transform their communities.