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Rafael and Son in a Doorway

How Christian Aid has strengthened human rights in Angola

Published on 10 December 2020

At the end of this month, Christian Aid’s work in Angola comes to an end after 37 years. Today, on International Human Rights Day, we celebrate some of the success of our Angolan partners, hard won in a very challenging context.

After Angola’s near three-decade civil war finally ended in 2002, Christian Aid supported church partners’ efforts to help refugees returning home. From 2003 onwards, we also began working with newly established human rights groups, supporting their efforts to protect human rights and build lasting peace in a country torn apart by violence.

Irish churches have been regular supporters of Christian Aid’s work in Angola and since 2007, Irish Aid, the Irish government’s programme for overseas aid, has been a key donor.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways our human rights work in Angola has made a real difference.

2004: Providing legal protection for people living with HIV/AIDS

 

The Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (AJPD) was founded by a group of university students in 2000, to promote the rule of law in a country where using violence and force had been the norm for decades. 

AJPD’s work focused on helping to pass new laws to protect Angola’s most marginalised and vulnerable citizens. In 2002, Christian Aid became the first funder of their HIV programme.

At the time, AIDS was by far the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. During the civil war, HIV rates in Angola had been relatively low compared to neighbouring countries. But as the country opened up and people could move around again freely, HIV rates began to rise.

AJPD’s programme, aimed at tackling discrimination, was different to most other HIV initiatives, which at the time focused largely on raising awareness and preventing transmission. In the beginning, Christian Aid was the only donor willing to fund such work. 

AJPD campaigned to protect people in their workplace so that they couldn’t be fired from their job simply because they were HIV positive. They lobbied the government to change the law and to take action against companies that were mistreating workers with HIV. In 2003, the government passed a new law protecting HIV positive citizens in employment and training. 

Despite the passing of this new law, people living with HIV continued to experience widespread rejection and discrimination. To tackle this, AJPD broadened their campaign, working with lawyers and politicians to draft and present a new law that went beyond people living with HIV’s right to work, to also include issues such as the right to healthcare, education and confidentiality. 

The government went on to pass this law too in 2004, securing far-reaching legal protection for people living with HIV/AIDS across Angola. 

2012: Homes for former street children

The Angolan government estimates that 700,000 children lost one or both parents during the civil war, and a further 100,000 were separated from their families. Many of these children ended up fending for themselves on the streets.

Omunga, a children’s rights group, grew out of a project for street children in the coastal city of Lobito. They became an independent organisation in 2005 and Christian Aid has supported their work since 2007.

At first, Omunga’s campaign focused on securing tents for street children as well as protecting them from police abuse. Then they began lobbying the local authorities to build them permanent homes.

This work took several years and as the children grew older, Omunga provided them with training so that they could take the campaign forward themselves. In 2012, after years of campaigning by Omunga with support from Christian Aid and Irish Aid, Lobito’s local government finally began construction work on Angola’s first-ever community for former street children. The neighbourhood is named ‘16 June’ after the International Day of the African Child.

Evaristo Tchilala and his young family live in one of the 110 homes that have been built so far on the site, complete with a bathroom and electricity.

‘We had to fight to get these houses built, it was a real struggle, he explains. ‘Omunga has been like a father to us. They opened our eyes.’

Evaristo with his children Maria, Emilio and Bernarda outside their home.

Evaristo with his children Maria, Emilio and Bernarda outside their home. - Omunga/Donaldo Sousa

Evaristo with his children Maria, Emilio and Bernarda outside their home. Photo: Omunga/Donaldo Sousa

Evaristo’s own father, a soldier, disappeared one day during the war and Evaristo never saw him again. He didn’t get on with his stepfather and as a result, left home aged 12. After 16 years of living on the streets, Evaristo only had children himself when he knew he could offer them a safe home. His oldest son, Emilio, started school last year.

2019: Defending water supplies during drought

In drought-prone Gambos county, southern Angola, most people are farmers or cattle herders who travel with their livestock to seasonal grazing pastures.

Water is a precious resource here. In Santo Antonio parish, 600 families from 14 different communities depend on a single spring for drinking water for both themselves and their animals, as well as for use in farming.

In 2017, the communities’ only water source came under threat. The provincial government announced plans to take it over for a government project, mainly benefiting large private farms nearby. Government officials were among the landowners set to profit from the scheme.

An alliance of Christian Aid partners, led by Chiange Gambos Network, supported the communities to work together to defend their water. This included launching legal challenges, local campaigning and a community roadblock to prevent the lorries of private landowners from reaching the spring.

Angolan community defends their rights to water

Community leaders from Santo Antonio parish block the road with stones and branches, so that land...Chiange Gambos Network

Community leaders from Santo Antonio parish block the road with stones and branches, so that landowners’ lorries can’t reach their spring. Photo: Chiange Gambos Network

After widespread media coverage and pressure from senior church figures, government officials backed down and announced that they would source the water for their project elsewhere.

But in 2019, as Gambos was in the grip of a severe drought, landowners’ lorries began returning to the spring and the provincial government sent in construction workers to start installing a pipeline to carry the water directly to landowners’ farms.

Christian Aid’s local partners Chiange Gambos Network and AJPD again supported the communities in resisting these efforts, providing legal and logistical support for their campaign, including helping the communities to write a letter to their local government and the police outlining their legal rights and announcing their intention to hold a public protest. The government again backed down and cancelled the water project.

As our work in Angola comes to an end after nearly four decades, we wish to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who has worked to improve the lives of Angolans, from Christian Aid staff to our local partners as well as to our supporters and donors who made this work possible.

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