On April 5 in a ceremony crowded with people and televisions, at the residence of the Ambassador of the United States of America in Maputo, Ana Maria Muhai received the award sponsored by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which is given to women all over the world who have shown exceptional courage and leadership.
Ana Maria Muhai was one of the first patients in Mozambique of the DREAM Program for the struggle against HIV / AIDS and malnutrition, led by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
She was one of the first to have broken the silence, speaking of her disease in television, radio and lecturing everyday in the DREAM centers to help other patients seek treatment and combat stigma.
“We have the great privilege to honor Ana Maria Muhai. Your courage and your tireless efforts have inspired thousands of other patients and your work has been instrumental in transforming the silence of shame in the voice of hope.
Ana Maria, we wish to honor you, not only as a brave woman but also as the symbol of all courageous men, women and children with HIV in Mozambique who struggle every day with this terrible disease”, said Leslie Rowe, ambassador of the United States.
At the ceremony, with emotion, Ana Maria recalled the pain and stigma of the past “I weighed 29 kilograms, a shadow of a woman to shreds. No one bought any of my vegetables or the drinks I sold for a living. People pointed their fingers at me and many said to others not to buy my products because I have AIDS. My children could not watch television in the neighbor’s house or play with the other children in the street or at school. People danced in front of my house, singing songs about AIDS and waiting for my death. Today these neighbors come to my house…and ask me to talk to their relatives and convince them to seek treatment!”
The US Ambassador recalled how Ana Maria, through the DREAM Program, has strengthened the leadership against discrimination. “Over the past decade, the activists of the DREAM Program have organized hundreds of events to raise awareness in health centers, schools and other public places, have participated in radio and TV debates, and all this work has prompted the Government of Mozambique to make media campaigns to speak more positively of the disease. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see Ana Maria at work in a center of Sant’Egidio, a clinic with more than 3.500 patients suffering from HIV / AIDS. As she does many days a year, that day Ana shared her testimony of life with hundreds of men, women and children in her same condition. A very personal message, more powerful than any speech. I could not help but be touched by how I saw her arise hope in others, as they listened to her voice and her story of tenacious struggle for life. ”
The same strong and tenacious voice that Ana Maria used for her speech, touching the audience at the ceremony. “I have not learned about AIDS in books or in any association. I learned the hard way. I am AIDS!” she said and recalled when the DREAM Program of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which had just started in the country, accepted her. “I was very lucky. I had my family who helped me and never abandoned me as did my husband when he found out I was sick. I had the Community of Sant’Egidio, which has become for me a great family, treating me but also helping me and giving me strength. And now, also the United States which is a super power! I am truly very lucky. At the end of the ceremony, a representative of the Government invited Ana Maria to take her testimony to the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique.