Twelve Angolan girls have won a prestigious International Diana Award for improving HIV awareness among young women in the poor suburbs of the country’s capital city, Luanda.
The girls – aged between 11 and 15 years old – are part of Girls Building Bridges, a project run by Christian Aid’s long-term partner, the Women’s Christian Union of Angola, which nominated them for the prize.
The teenagers were chosen for the award for their commitment to improving HIV awareness in their communities and for challenging the stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.
Although national HIV prevalence rates in Angola are estimated at 2 to 4%, some health centres in Luanda report rates of up to 20%, particularly among young people, with new cases every day.
As part of the Girls Building Bridges programme, the teenagers help to spread awareness of HIV and women’s rights by performing interactive role plays in schools and churches, and by encouraging debate on topics such as gender equality, domestic violence and reproductive health in the context of HIV/AIDS.
The Diana Award was established in the UK in 1999 in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, as a legacy to her belief in the power of young people to change the world.
The International Award was launched last year to celebrate the charitable work that Princess Diana pioneered around the globe. Angola was the last country Diana visited and she left a strong impression.
‘We are really proud that Girls Building Bridges are the first Angolans to receive the International Diana Award,’ said Tuiku Kiakayama Elisa, General Secretary at the Women's Christian Union of Angola.
‘In a country where the population is young and HIV prevalence is high, their work is so important. They are role models in their community and provide vital support to young girls and women. They have had the confidence and courage to discuss the issues that affect women and girls and they inspire others to follow their example. This is helping them empower themselves to make positive life decisions.’
Around 70% of the girls in the group go on to become peer educators and volunteers, providing post-HIV test counselling at local health centres. They also offer moral support to many girls and women in the community who experience domestic violence. Tellingly, all girls from the first courses - now young women - are currently doing university courses and working, breaking the cycle of poverty and exclusion in their lives.
Maria Gloria Santos, 14, said: ‘We are delighted to be the first recipients of this International Award in Angola. We are passionate about raising the awareness of key issues affecting young girls. We are the women of the future and we want it to be a better future.’
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