Posted by Michelle MacInnes-Rae
A cool and breezy Sunday morning here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as I head to the office of War Child’s partner, People To People (P2P), to sit in on the girl’s group discussion of the week. Twenty-eight girls, ages 13-19 sit chatting excitedly as one prepares the coffee for the traditional coffee ceremony. Younger siblings play in the background, occasionally dropping into the circle to distract us. P2P’s social worker, Salamawif Mohammed leads the discussion. HIV/AIDS prevention is the topic of the day. Small cups of freshly brewed coffee make their way around the circle as the conversation shifts from how HIV is transmitted to how young girls can protect themselves. The discussion is lively, with girl of all ages participating and speaking with ease.
‘Communication between partners is necessary to avoid HIV’
‘Most of the decisions about contraception are made by males because of the low confidence of females’
‘We must lessen our economic dependence on males’ (it is here that I find out that the term ‘sugar-daddy’ has gone global).
These aren’t your average topics of discussion for teenage girls back at home, but it is the reality for female youth living in the city core of Addis Ababa. In a country where HIV/AIDS has infected over 1.1 million people and affected the lives of millions more sons, daughters, parents and friends, the importance of creating a dialogue around HIV prevention is invaluable in Ethiopia.
One of the older girls sets down her coffee and begins to speak. Despite my very limited understanding of Amharic, her gestures and tone command attention. With 28 young girls it’s hard to keep the chitter-chatter to a minimum, but this time the entire group is listening. The Program Administrator leans in to tell me that she is speaking about how older siblings must act as role models for their young sisters and brothers in promoting partner communication and negotiation of contraception when it comes to sex. Each of the child-headed households that War Child and P2P support has three or more members. The age range in each household can be vast with some of the household heads as young 17. As the young girl continues, I notice a ring on her left hand. She is married. As she speaks about partner communication, self-esteem and role models I realize she is already a model to the rest of the girls here today. And it’s through this weekly girl’s group that powerful messages like these are being promoted and practiced where the most vulnerable can see and hear them.