The determination of Cacilda Massango, an activist of the DREAM programme in Mozambique and winner of the international “Woman of the Year” award.
Cacilda is a woman, she is HIV+ and she comes from a developing country, where half of the population lives in absolute poverty. These three facts are often considered a weakness but Cacilda Isabel Massango has managed to turn them into strengths and has become one of the symbols of the fight against AIDS in Mozambique. This is a story of courage, humanity and great professionalism, and people in Italy have heard about it too. Cacilda was awarded the Popularity award in the 21st edition of the internationally recognised “Woman of the Year” event, promoted by the Regional Council of the Valle d’Aosta, with the patronage of the Senate of the Republic, the Chamber of Deputies, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Department of Equal Opportunities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and in collaboration with the Soroptimist International Club Valle d’Aosta. This edition was dedicated to resilient women: women who have been able to bear the shocks of life without breaking, and who face ambitious challenges with courage and determination.
Today Cacilda is the Mozambican heart of Eu DREAM (I DREAM), an association that works with the Community of Sant’Egidio DREAM programme for the right to health, the fight against AIDS and malnutrition in Africa. She is the coordinator of the DREAM centre in Zimpeto, on the outskirts of the capital, Maputo. This is a large healthcare centre that treats HIV, tuberculosis and female cancers and it offers high quality service free of charge to the people who live in the area.
Cacilda was born in 1977 in Maputo. When she was a young mother, she did not understand why she had so many diseases and a miscarriage too. In 2002, when she was only 25, she was told she was HIV+. She was immediately advised to go for treatment on the outskirts of Maputo, at a Community of Sant’Egidio DREAM centre, at the Machava hospital. She followed that advice and went to the healthcare centre but, although she knew she would be able to receive the treatment that had been unthinkable until just before then, she found out that her one and a half year old daughter was also HIV+.
Cacilda did not lose hope and she started fighting. She fought the disease that she and her daughter had, and that so many other people in Mozambique had too. She started studying again, having stopped at 19 when her father died, and graduated in philosophy, she became the director of a nutritional centre and then, in 2018, became the coordinator of the DREAM centre in Zimpeto, which already had over 2,000 patients. In the meantime, she founded Eu DREAM, a network started by some women who found that they were HIV+ and experienced themselves that the antiretroviral therapy was effective.
The movement’s message is simple: AIDS is not a death sentence, it can be cured. Today Eu DREAM has 10,000 people and is active in all the provinces in Mozambique. It is a large network of people who provide information and awareness, they offer a new way of dealing with AIDS and of fighting discrimination. Cacilda and the other activists of Eu DREAM have helped hundreds of HIV+ women find their place again in their families and in society, and they promote the right to treat HIV+ children, who are often forgotten about or neglected.
The following is the reason why the 2019 Woman of the Year award was given to Cacilda: “Rewarding a Mozambican woman who has managed to find her way through the obstacles caused by her condition as a woman and as someone with HIV, means bringing light to a story that otherwise could not become an example for girls from Africa to Europe. This is an opportunity to question stereotypes. There are many stories like this one and they must be told, to testify to the possibility of building a world in which everyone’s living conditions are improved, if the right to health and education is equal for everyone”.