Math Major Wins Award to Fight HIV in Ethiopia

April 25, 2016

More than 750,000 people in Ethiopia live with HIV, which causes an average of 25,000 deaths every year and has orphaned more than half a million children. If you ask Meaza Abate ’17, however, the biggest failure is not the prevalence of HIV, but rather the nation's failure to integrate these individuals into society.

“People with the virus are stigmatized, and the intransigent cultural norms have made it difficult to access information,” she says. “Ethiopia’s conservative cultural norms and strong religious beliefs create barriers to the fight against HIV/AIDS, because they limit sex education in schools and disallow open discussion.”

Meaza has won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace award to do something about that problem. This summer, she plans to arm youths with knowledge about HIV by training like-minded high school students, creating a network of youth leaders, and developing a platform for them to execute change.

Meaza grew up in Ethiopia. When she was in high school, she originally joined an Anti-HIV/AIDS Club because she needed to rack up extracurricular activities to get into college. But the experience changed her. "The more time I spent there, the more passionate I became about the issue," she says. In her summers, she began to volunteer at an orphanage that housed kids living with HIV.

"Working with kids that lived with HIV was probably what drew my interest most," she says. "Those wonderful kids not only have to live with this horrid disease the rest of their lives, they have to live at the margins because of it. It became clear to me how the Ethiopian society viewed those that lived with the virus and became saddened by my blissful ignorance. About a percent of the Ethiopian population lives with HIV and most of the other 99% either marginalizes that one percent or does nothing to help them. At some point in high school, I promised myself, that given the opportunity, I would do something about it. Davis Peace Project turned out to be that opportunity."

Meaza will partner with African AIDS Initiatives International (AAII), a nonprofit based in Addis Ababa University that works with youth to create HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, and UNAIDS, the section of the United Nations that works with HIV/AIDS. The project’s goal is to create programs in all high schools that will encourage open discussion on HIV, raise awareness, and perhaps funds but most of all provide a platform for the youth of Ethiopia to initiate and demand change.

Tags: Awards & Achievements, Students, Service, Health/Wellness