June 9, 2011
I have been in the town of Maxixe about two weeks now, working with the IRD office here. For our project, and also because this is the “fun stuff” of development work, I have been trying to go out in the field as much as possible.
First, a little more about our project in Maxixe with IRD’s program for orphans and vulnerable children. Mozambique is deeply affected by HIV/AIDS, with a national prevalence of 15% and a prevalence in the southern region (where Maxixe is located) of 21%. This, along with other diseases, creates a number of what we call “orphans and vulnerable children,” which are generally children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS or some other disease and currently live in a precarious situation. A lot of these kids end up leaving school to take care of the household chores or provide for other siblings.
IRD trains local organizations in the province to run home visit programs to care for these children in their own community. My task is to see what the organizations are currently doing and if there are any tools that can help them do their job better, especially in the area of data collection.
In order for us to really understand the needs of these children, Marques and I first became very familiar with all sorts of national plans and strategies for orphans and vulnerable children, as I mentioned before. These documents were really helpful to give us background, but also left me with a lot more questions. Now, it’s time to answer those questions and understand the situation better by seeing it firsthand.
On one day, we accompanied Kurula, a community-based organization based in a more rural district in the province. Kurula is one of the organizations trained and supported by IRD to implement a community-based home visit program for orphans and vulnerable children. It took us about two hours on dirt roads to arrive at our site for the day, a small rural community centered around a health center and school.
We met Kurula’s volunteer Obadias, who lives in that community. Then we set off walking down narrow sand footpaths through the brush, visiting several families that day at their homes. At these home visits, I got my first idea of the situation in which very poor families live in Mozambique. But my first impression wasn’t of their poverty. The homes are generally a collection of huts made from tightly woven palm fronds or reeds with straw roofs, arranged in an open area with the ground neatly swept free of excess dirt or debris. Really, I just thought, “Wow, everything is so neat.”
The walls of the huts are woven so expertly and tightly, and the ground was freshly raked. I also admired the simplicity—I can’t even imagine living without the clutter of all my belongings around me. But just as soon as I found myself musing about this, I reminded myself that this is beyond living simply. These families lack so many things that they need to live healthy and productive lives, from accessible water to a balanced diet to school materials.
We met several widowed mothers whose children receive support from Kurula. This support includes monthly food supplements of beans and corn and regular visits from a Kurula volunteer to check up on the children. The mothers expressed appreciation for the support from Kurula, especially for the food subsidies. They also told us about other needs they have. Many mentioned that the children don’t have school supplies.
We also visited many homes where the children were not at school that day. Seeing all the work that it takes just to maintain a home here—walking to fetch water from the pump and carrying it back, gathering firewood, harvesting and gathering food to eat, making a fire and preparing food to cook, cultivating a small plot of vegetables around the home, keeping the home area clean—it was easy for me to understand why a parent might keep a child home to help out, even though school is so important for the children in the long term.
Visiting and talking to the families served by Kurula through IRD’s program really opened my eyes to a lot of challenges. How to encourage parents to send their children to school every day when they really need help at home? How to make sure children are receiving a balanced diet when the family is just getting by? It won’t happen overnight, but it is encouraging to know that there are organizations like Kurula and IRD working on these issues, week by week and visit by visit.