Christian Aid's long-term local partner, Women's Christian Union of Angola, have won this year's International Diana Award for their 'Girls building Bridges' project in the poverty-stricken suburbs of the Angolan capital city, Luanda.
The 12 teenage girls, aged between 11- and 15-years-old, won the prestigious award for their unwavering commitment to improving HIV awareness among young women in their communities, and challenging the rife stigma and discrimination associated with the virus. They received the award this Saturday on behalf of all other girls involved in this programme.
Despite official estimates that national HIV prevalence rates in Angola are between two and four per cent, some health centres in Luanda are reporting rates of up to 20%, particularly amongst young people, with new cases presenting every day.
'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 county 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 helps them empower themselves to make positive life decisions.'
As part of the Girls Building Bridges programme the girls start by developing "competencies for life" so that instead of just saying 'no to HIV', they say 'yes' to themselves. They then perform interactive role plays in schools and churches and encourage debate on hot topics such as gender equality, domestic violence and reproductive health in the context of HIV/AIDS. They also help to inform young women about their fundamental rights and encourage them to take ownership of their relationships.
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.
On receiving the International Diana Award 14-year-old Maria Gloria Santos 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.'
The International Diana Award was launched in 2011 in memory of the remarkable charitable work that Princess Diana herself pioneered all around the world. Angola was the last country she visited and she left a strong impression. The award has been presented to inspirational young people who are committed to helping others and improving their communities in India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Paraguay, Chile, Tanzania and now Angola.