June 6, 2011
Our first week as IRD interns began in Washington, DC at the IRD headquarters. During that week, we learned about the different sectors of IRD, such as logistics, health, infrastructure, and community development. IRD does such diverse work in the area of development. It was fascinating for me as a public health student to learn more about projects in other development sectors, and I can’t wait to see some of these programs at work in Mozambique.
Also during our week at IRD headquarters, my internship partner, Marques, and I learned more about the projects we will work on. First, we will be working with a program caring for orphans and vulnerable children through partner organizations in the province of Inhambane. We will help to create guides for volunteers working with these organizations to better meet the special needs of vulnerable children. This might include assuring that they have identification documents, access to school, and proper nutrition.
Our second project will be a program in Zambezia province. The project includes agriculture, water, sanitation, and hygiene, and risk reduction for environmental threats such as droughts and cyclones. For this project, we will be conducting an evaluation to assess the project’s impact on the community’s health and livelihoods.
After a busy week at the IRD headquarters, we set off for Mozambique. After an extremely long but uneventful trip, we finally arrived in Maputo. I was excited to get to know Mozambique and the city of Maputo, but I was also exhausted from the long trip and jet lag. Marques declared that he felt delirious from being so tired, and I knew exactly how he felt. I decided to save the exploring for the next day, and I went to bed very gratefully and very early.
We spent our first week in Mozambique at the IRD headquarters in the capital of Maputo, where we learned more details on our projects from the country staff. We had lots of documents to become familiar with in order to perform our tasks, such as national strategies and plans and project reports. These documents were enlightening, but they also created a lot more questions for me. For instance, I was reviewing several national plans on how to deal with orphans and vulnerable children. The plans were very comprehensive in addressing all of the needs and rights of children, such as adequate nutrition, vaccinations, education, access to information, etc. Reading these plans, however, I couldn’t help but wonder whether reality in the country is reaching these ideals. I’m looking forward to going into the field to visit orphans and vulnerable children with IRD’s partner organizations, where I’ll get a better idea of the current situation and how IRD can help.
After a week in Maputo, we made the seven-hour trip from Maputo to the town of Maxixe in the province of Inhambane, where we will be based for the first three weeks of the internship. The ride itself was very exciting for me, my first glimpse of the Mozambican countryside. The highway was very nice, smoothly paved with one lane in either direction, and we moved along quickly. But we still got to see plenty along the way—there was so much happening right there along the highway. We passed through many towns and also through the countryside, and no matter where we were, there were always people walking alongside the road. We saw lots of children playing, carrying backpacks on the way to school, carrying water. We also saw plenty of men and women along the road going about their lives, carrying water, fetching firewood.
I am continually impressed by people’s ability to carry things on their heads. It is just so amazing to me. So far, I have seen people carrying all sorts of heavy and cumbersome things, like heavy five-gallon jugs of water, huge bushels of firewood, or tubs of cassava on the way to the market. Each individual instance is a phenomenal feat of the human body in my opinion, and everyone’s doing it all around me! I asked how to do it, and apparently you have to train from childhood, so I probably won’t be mastering head portage during this trip. But I think I will have to make a list of Most Impressive Things Carried on Head. So far, I think the standout is a woman I saw carrying a twin mattress on her head without any use of her hands, just walking effortlessly along.
After a delightful ride in which I got to see plenty of Mozambican life along the highway, and sample it by buying a huge bag of freshly roasted cashews, we arrived in Maxixe. I was very eager to see the town where I would live for the next three weeks. I knew it was a small town located on the coast, but that’s about it. After having spent a few days here, I can describe it better. The busiest part of town is where the main highway passes through, right along the coast. I am staying on this road, directly across the street from a ferry that connects Maxixe with Inhambane, the provincial capital located across the bay. Back from the main road, the town is arranged in a neat grid, with a park and a market in the center. Most shops and businesses surround this area, and the rest of town, mostly houses, goes out from there. It is indeed a small town, but it has a lot of energy that you can feel as you walk through the streets—men and women doing business, people walking quickly from one place to another, teenagers hanging out, children playing, vendors selling, neighbors chatting.