In Mozambique, a country where more than 10 per cent of adults live with HIV, Caritas Australia is working with local communities to create sustainable education and work opportunities.
Ditosa lives in Matuba, near Chokwe in southern Mozambique, where many children have lost one or both parents to an AIDS-related illness.
The 17-year-old attended the Matuba Children’s Centre after school each day.
The centre was set up by Caritas in 2007 and provides vulnerable children with a daily lunch, study help, along with training in computer skills, jewellery-making, sewing, raising chickens and growing vegetables.
This essential support has enabled Ditosa to embark on a positive journey of education and she has since graduated from school and hopes to go to university.
“I love to learn and want to be a police woman,” Ditosa said.
“Education is important in my life but I know that university is expensive, so if I can’t go to the police academy I want to learn commercial science so that I can work in a bank.”
Along the way, Ditosa has faced many challenges. In 2013, for example, floods devastated her house and community.
An incredible feat of hers was staying in the top of a tree for five days with a neighbour’s family with no food or drink until the water subsided and she could find her family.
In recent years, the centre has expanded its activities to include a pig project, teaching the children to sew uniforms and build carpentry benches for sale.
Matuba Children’s Centre has become self-sustainable to the point where it only needs to access Caritas funds in an emergency such as the distribution of maize, beans and sweet potato seeds during droughts.
Centre Director Elvira is pleased with the progress the centre has made since its establishment.
“I never thought the day would come. Now we are thriving, with enough food from the seeds that were given to us and the rains this year have been good,” Elvira said.
“But we don’t want to be forgotten. We are fighting to keep Matuba operating for the sake of the children who are so poor.”
In 2014, Caritas Australia and Caritas Regional Director Chokwe helped Ditosa’s family to build a new two-room house as well as supporting her to finish her education.
“Without the support of the people from Australia and Caritas I would not have been given this opportunity to continue my schooling,” Ditosa said.
“I am also so happy to have a house. There were previously four of us living in one room, after our home got washed away with the floods.
“Now I share a room with my grandmother and am more comfortable. This is all because of the generosity of the people of Australia.”