Girls Building Bridges is a course equipping young women in Angola with knowledge about HIV and early pregnancy and the skills to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion. It's run by our long-term partner, the Women’s Christian Union (UCF).
Dizalele da Silva credits the project with building her self-esteem and confidence.
‘I used to think you could get HIV from touching and speaking to people. I came to the programme and I realised that I was wrong.’
Dizalele da Silva, known as Dilza, speaks frankly about how the Girls Building Bridges course changed what she thought about HIV and AIDS.
Debating important topics
Speaking frankly is one of the things that makes the programme a success: the girls love the fact they can openly debate what would otherwise be taboo subjects.
‘I like to come to this programme because we learn about HIV and early pregnancy,’ says Dilza, who is 13.
‘At home our parents don’t talk much about relationships or sex. [Here] we pick a certain subject, such as early pregnancy, and debate it.
'They give us some questions and we respond to the questions. Through this we get to make up our own minds on the subject.’
Teaching vital skills
Girls Building Bridges was formed in 2004 in response to high levels of underage sex and early pregnancies in Cazenga, a poor suburb of Luanda, where UCF is based.
There is a clear need for education about HIV and how to protect oneself.
While HIV rates in Angola are relatively low at 2 per cent, among young people (aged 15 to 24) HIV prevalence is nearly three times higher among young women than men.
Around 60 girls aged between 13 and 18 now pass through the programme each year. The girls also learn practical skills such as English, IT, cookery and sewing.
‘I have learned to trust myself.'
They play an important role in increasing awareness of HIV and challenging associated stigma and discrimination among their peers and in the wider community.
Since the programme started, 20 of the girls - now young women - have gone on to university or higher education, something almost unheard of in their communities.
Ultimately the aim of the course is to instil in the girls the confidence to deal with the many challenges that lie ahead.
This is especially important in an environment where girls and women face violence and discrimination in and outside their households.
Giving young women the confidence and knowledge to make their own decisions and speak up for themselves is vital.
In poor communities women have little access to education or healthcare and are frequently left out of decision making, giving them little control over their lives.
Dilza explains: ‘I have learned about different kinds of behaviour that I didn’t know about, such as self-esteem and how to trust yourself and how to make decisions.
'I had heard the terms but I didn’t know what they meant. I’ve learned that to have self-esteem you have to value yourself and accept your qualities. I have learned to trust myself.’
Girls Building Bridges won an International Diana Award for their work fighting stigma against HIV.