In the 30 days since my arrival in Mozambique I have witnessed the tremendous impact IRD is making in the lives of persons who participate in their programs. From the corporate headquarters in Washington DC to the various offices throughout the provinces, one can’t help but be impressed with the coordinated effort that unites donors and beneficiaries in such a transformative way. IRD’s effort to reduce the burden of mortality and morbidity caused by HIV/AIDS has been a textbook example of transforming communities. Their motto of ‘Improving Lives…Building Livelihoods’ is appropriate since so much of their work seems to focus on helping individuals by strengthening the existing communities in which they live. By giving technical support and forming partnerships with dozens of neighborhood associations, local CBOs, provincial health departments, non-governmental and governmental organizations alike, IRD provides a more sustainable and measurable impact in the local community. From the dozens of orphaned children whose parent(s) have died from AIDS to the local farmers learning new methods in agriculture, IRD has helped to improve their lives through strengthening local capacities and experiencing community with those they aim to serve.
On Community – As I reflect upon my experiences as an IRD intern these past several weeks I’m reminded of the work of building community within another context, the church. This season of the Christian calendar known as Pentecost represents a time of development and transformation among a group of persons from different backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities, yet they experienced community in such a way that “they had all things in common (Acts 2). ” Similarly, there exists a theme of mutuality between IRD staff, key informants, volunteers, community leaders, and beneficiaries that overcomes demographic boundaries. This was indeed the case when my Emory colleague and I visited the home of one of the participants in the ESOCUIDA Home Based Care program. This program is designed to support ten CBOs in their care for persons with HIV/AIDS through the distribution of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs and food subsidies. On this particular day we visited the home of a mother who is HIV positive, widowed and visually impaired. She is assisted in her daily duties by her 6-year-old daughter (who also is HIV positive) and occasionally, a 4-year-old neighbor who is one of her daughter’s playmates. On this particular day, we were greeted by the 4-year-old neighbor, who very ceremoniously greeted us by pulling out some straw mats for us to sit on and began serving water to the volunteers. I was impressed with the show of hospitality by this child who could have easily been more preoccupied with his chores of chasing away chickens from the wheat grain or retrieving some necessity for his elderly neighbor. Observing him reminded me of one of the critical keys in community building/development: recognizing the hidden capacities that exist within all persons, regardless of age, gender, etc. This 4-year-old child instinctively emulated IRD’s function by helping the most vulnerable persons within his community.
For the next 30 minutes we engaged in dialogue on issues generative to our host (proper usage of ARVs, food supplements, etc) as well as her benefits within her local associations—her church and Ajudeco (the local CBO). When asked how she was able to receive her ARVs she stated that her 6-year-old daughter makes the commute to retrieve them. This is no small feat in itself, being that we had just traveled over an hour in an off-road vehicle across rugged terrain then walked an additional 30 minutes to get to her home. However, this is just a typical day in a community where sharing a ‘balea’ ride (hitch hiking) to reach the nearest city is as common as offering strangers the best seat in the home. In my first blog I highlighted the significant role that women play within Mozambiquen society, but after being a part of a dozen or so home visits one can’t help but marvel at the gifts, skills and capacities that every member of the community brings. In the case of children whose parents died from AIDS there was a grandparent who took them in. When there was an unmarried woman struggling with the stigma of her illness there was a brother that took her in. When there was a sixty-plus-year-old grandmother infected with HIV there was a church group that provided moral support. And in the case of this mother with visual impairment it is a little child who takes the lead in showing us what experiencing community really looks like.
On Faith & Healing – Prior to coming to Candler School of Theology, one of my passions has been researching the intrinsic relationship between spirituality and health. As a Master of Public Health student at Morehouse School of Medicine, I analyzed the impact that religiosity had on the blood pressure levels of persons attending a worship service. This curiosity is one of the things that attracted me to apply to Emory since they too have an interest in the intersection of religion and health in local communities. Moreover, after attending the IRD orientation and working in the field in Mozambique for a month, I have seen personally how IRD utilizes this intersection of faith and health in developing relationships with local associations and communities. One approach utilized through IRD’s ESOQUIDA Home Based care and Orphan and Vulnerable Children programs is by increasing the knowledge base and improving health literacy among the local faith leaders. One group specifically is the curanuerros (traditional healers). IRD has taken an ecumenical approach in its efforts to reduce the burden of mortality and morbidity caused by HIV/AIDS by utilizing curanuerros as volunteers. This approach is transformative because it increases the likelihood that beneficiaries will receive health messages that are consistent with their health care providers. One of the common practices among curanuerros is the use of razors in ceremonial cutting. By educating the curanuerros on the importance of not using a single razor on multiple persons, IRD ensures that more hygienic practices are occurring among the beneficiaries. More specifically, by inviting the curanuerros to act as volunteers and team members within the local CBOs, it helps to foster stronger relationships between the faith and health communities.
However, if one is more specifically interested in understanding how local religious leaders are shaping community perceptions of health and/or understanding how health workers engage religious communities, then look no further than one of Candler’s own alumni, Rev. Joao Sambo (’10). During my second week of site visits, my Emory colleague and I visited a local orphanage in which over 50 children reside. Kuvuneka, one of the local CBOs that IRD supports, utilizes the orphanage as a distribution center for persons living in the community of Cambine. We were very impressed with the resources that are provided through the orphanage and I was particularly pleased to see that the orphanage was founded and supported by The United Methodist Church. It wasn’t until another week after meeting Joao that I was informed that the orphanage is just one of several resources that The United Methodist Church has invested in the Cambine community. Joao took me on a tour of the campus, which in addition to the orphanage, houses a girls’ dormitory, boys’ dormitory, primary school, secondary school, 2 libraries, a clinic, seminary, a church, as well as housing for faculty and staff. Over 200 acres of space is owned by The United Methodist Church, of which approximately 10 acres is being used to transform Cambine, one of Mozambique’s most historic communities, into a vibrant, educational enterprise known as the Cambine Mission Center.
Rev. Sambo serves as a Chaplain and one of several full-time faculty members teaching homiletics, philosophy, mysticism and church administration at Cambine’s seminary. He and his colleagues represent a handful of seminary-trained professionals who have taken a page out of WEB Dubois’ philosophy in community development by returning home after completing their studies to give back to the communities that invested in them. The future for Cambine looks even brighter since the Mission Center brought electricity and running water to the community several years ago. While the mission center has made tremendous strides in developing the local economy through improving literacy, developing agriculture, job training, and access to health resources, there is still more work to be done and more room at the table in this ‘Beloved community.’ While churches are offering space and resources for trainings, treatment and screenings on HIV/AIDS and communicable illnesses, there is still work to be done in removing the stigma of HIV/AIDS that exists within the church and within the local community. While Cambine has the only seminary in Mozambique where 100% of the faculty has at least a Master’s degree, there is a tremendous shortage of books and resources available in the libraries. Nonetheless, Cambine, like its residents, is a story of overcoming the odds. No one epitomized this more than one of the young men I met who came to Cambine as an orphan many years ago but will be graduating this year from the Cambine Mission Center Seminary.