Transforming the lives of adolescent girls in Liberia

Hawa Wanita Page is a talented young woman with a dream of increasing opportunities for adolescent girls through health-related training in her home country, Liberia. After 14 years of civil conflict, Liberia is rebuilding its health system and has attracted support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and multilateral agencies in particular to work toward reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Despite the burgeoning political stability, Liberia is still trying to recover from the lingering effects of the war that devastated the country and much of its infrastructure. Years of neglect have left the country with a battered health care system and millions of people, including a growing number of young women, without access to basic healthcare services.

Hawa received a scholarship from the Australian Government and graduated from the University of Sydney with a Masters in International Public Health in 2012. On completion, she moved back to her home country where she joined UNICEF/Liberia as HIV/AIDS Adolescent Development Coordinator.

Currently, Hawa coordinates a joint UN program on adolescent development, which brings together UN agencies and five Liberian government ministries: Education, Gender, Health, Internal Affairs and Justice. She represents UNICEF as member of a technical working group (TWG) responsible for developing and/or revising policy documents that promote adolescents’ health.

As a coordinator of this vital program, Hawa’s work has contributed to improving the lives of about one thousand at-risk adolescents aged 10 to 19 years old in five communities from the Montserrado and Gbapolu counties in northern Liberia. As a result, the number of girls enrolling in school in these five communities has increased from 50 girls in 2007 to 895 in 2013.

In collaboration with local women leaders, the program trains girls in life skills, including the prevention of HIV/sexually transmitted diseases, and educates the community about the harm caused by traditional practices (i.e. female genital mutilation and early marriages). Leadership, parenting and reproductive health are other life skills covered in the program. Hawa also provides literacy and numeracy support to out-of-school adolescents.

Hawa’s contributions go beyond on-the ground efforts to policy work. She has served as facilitator for the UNICEF Learning Committee and has contributed to the design of a strategy document to guide the work with adolescents in Liberia.

Hawa is a voice for improving the lives of adolescent girls in Liberia. She links her contributions to her country’s development to the skills and knowledge she gained during her studies in Australia.

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