Fifteen-year-old Catherine from Malawi is extraordinary.
Catherine was born with short arms and fewer than 10 fingers. Because of her disability, Catherine was ostracized by her family and her community. They called her names; they called her a witch.
At the age of 7, Catherine was enrolled in primary school. She drowned out the laughs and cruel jokes from the school administrators and her fellow students, instead choosing to focus on excelling in her studies – oftentimes outperforming her classmates.
But her education was derailed when, at the age of thirteen, she was awoken in the middle of the night by her uncle. He raped her, and he threatened to kill her if she ever disclosed what happened. Three months later Catherine discovered she was pregnant and HIV positive.
Catherine’s family accused and blamed her for what happened. “It’s your fault,” they said, refusing to report the incident.
We met Catherine through a program we support called AGALI. This Girl Up-supported program trains youth on various issues including advocacy, sexual reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, HIV infection and AIDS, and life and vocational skills.
With support from AGALI and Girl Up, Catherine is back in school – proudly in the 7th grade! – and her grandmother has agreed to take care of her baby while she is in school. Catherine says she is determined to continue her education and achieve her dream of being an architect or agricultural specialist.
Today, we celebrate Catherine and her bravery, her strength and, above all, her dreams.