A visit to rural Mozambique

In September I was part of a church visit by Holy Trinity Hurdsfield (or HTH as we call it) to Tearfund partner the Diocese of Niassa in northern Mozambique. One of the best things about the trip was the others in our party,: Alec, Alice, Pauline, Geraldine, Jenny, Rachel, Mike and Rachel, Karen my wife, James the vicar, Laura from Tearfund – including several who had never been to the developing world before.

I have written this kind of ‘warts-and-all’ blog to give a real account of where we visited, Tearfund’s influence, and the work of the Diocese of Niassa, which Tearfund supports with funds, but also in prayer and practical ways. Sunday morning, two hours on a very bumpy road to church in Mambucha. Mile after mile of brown scrubby land, the maize had been harvested, there was cassava, pigeon peas, bamboo (which is used for building), some vegetables, bananas, mangos and oranges. We passed mud brick huts with thatch, and markets along the roadside.

Time and again we saw people labouring along with bicycles gigantically overloaded, sometimes with maize or charcoal, occasionally with live chickens hanging upside-down from the handlebars. Later we stayed for a few days in Morrumbala, where much of the land was not cultivated; some of it had been burnt and the fires appeared to have got out of control. Houses were small and in poor condition, there were fewer solar panels outside them, pumps and schools were far apart. Fewer people had bicycles or shoes and there was less activity. It had been depopulated somewhat during the civil war, and it’s also possible that Morrumbala was suffering from government neglect, since it was an area of support for the opposition party.

St. John’s Church, Mambucha

This church was a prime example of a Tearfund-supported process called Umoja (technical explanations later). The deacon, Franco, explained how the church had started in the small house next to the present church in 2007. Members began a savings group which provided the funds for the roof (i.e. it was corrugated iron, not thatch). The building was also used as a pre-school, so young children didn’t have to travel so far to the nearest primary. Memory – a diocesan fieldworker was working on combatting the effects of HIV in the community. People’s attitude to HIV had changed and they were more willing to be tested, with mobile clinics sometimes coming round. Counselling always accompanied testing and those found positive got treatment. Abstinence until marriage was taught. Sick and old people received support from the church with transport, soap, salt; and also advice on a healthy diet.
Mary, the secretary of the savings group, told us that the group now has 15 members. She had recently bought 18 chickens, which she will raise to sell or eat. She wanted to buy a goat next and planned to increase her regular savings amount.
These were all expressions of Umoja, as was the church’s supply of drinking water. In this area there was a shortage – some locals called it the desert of Niassa, though Niassa means “lake” and it was not by any means a desert. the shortage is of safe drinking water. The church requested help through the Diocese and were supplied with the materials and technology to build a rainwater tank behind the church. We saw their large tank of drinkable water which local people could buy, affordably, though it was prohibited to use it for anything other than drinking. There was a well for other uses. Unfortunately the tap on the water tank was leaking. All it needed was a pipe of the right length and gauge, but so far (for months) it had not been possible to get one (really ? in Milanje, over the border in Blantyre)?..
We next visited a lady with one leg for whom the church was building a house nearer to her neighbours so she could receive assistance more easily. Bricks were piled up for burning (burned bricks make for much stronger houses) and the thatch was ready. She had a wheeled prosthetic which some neighbours made for her, and she still farmed a little.

Umoja – And Making Things

Umoja is a Church Community Mobilisation model. It starts with bible studies, takes up to three years, brings a change of focus. It breaks down the old dependency culture, people begin asking what resources they themselves have, and find ways to reduce their reliance on donated financial support.
Very often the result is an explosion of making things. This community had invented a fuel-efficient stove that reduced the amount of firewood required by 75%. Some men made one in front of us, from the soil on the ground, water and a heap of straw, in about ten minutes. At the same time this woman made a beautiful clay pot. Elsewhere people made various types of enriched porridge using dried fish, ground nuts, greens and eggs.

Economic and Social Development
One of the workers told us there is a big weakness in the economics of a poor area like this relying on agronomy. There are no good roads, silos or warehouses, so people have to sell any surplus. If you’re lugging maize to market, precariously balanced on a bicycle, and someone in a pick-up offers you a very low price for it, you sell your maize on the spot – because you don’t want to lug it any further. If you want to keep maize it’s expensive: you’ll need security (a guard or a dog) & pest control; you’ll probably still lose some.
Umoja, the church and community mobilisation programme developed by Tearfund and operated by the diocese, was encouraging the growth of savings schemes and self-help groups. The savings groups are about business only and help individuals. Self-help groups are more about helping each other and the whole community. In savings groups members save money each week and are allowed to borrow from the pot to start or expand small businesses. Money is repaid with small amounts of interest. At the end of the year the money is shared out between the members. It can be seen as a small local bank. We heard from lots of people who were members of savings schemes – often women – who had set up stalls selling soft drinks, doughnuts etc. One lady was a member of four groups and was rapidly managing to build a new house. The mutual support and business training was an important part of the groups. People started to think that they could do something when before they were sitting around at home doing little.
In self-help groups the money was not being shared out at the end of the year but as time went by the amount in the pot was growing, making it possible to take bigger and bigger loans and do bigger things. The bigger loans available through self-help groups had the potential for starting businesses that really create wealth and employment, rather than just giving an individual a better life. Tearfund was developing manuals for savings and self-help groups, and Umoja materials being translated into some local languages when the call for them was established. Another coming initiative was market linkages, aiming to help members of these groups establish whether there is a market for what they plan to produce, and even how they can fit into a supply chain. Ethiopia is where Tearfund’s models have really taken off, and it is being used as a pattern for other countries’ training.
click here for Tearfund article on self-help groups in Ethiopia (pdf)Two challenges:
• Field workers, support workers and counsellors in the diocese’s various programmes would eventually realise that there is no money forthcoming, whereas from an NGO there might be (Save the Children were at work in this region, with expensive land cruisers, but the Diocese workers were volunteers travelling by bus or bicycle).
• The transition from savings schemes to self-help groups was clearly difficult. We did not see mature self-help groups. What we saw looked more like forming and storming.
The diocese outreach teams said they always seek the consent of the village chief before starting work. If the chief is not interested they go elsewhere but sometimes, when the chief saw what was happening in another community he or she would ask the Diocese workers to come back. Bishop Vicente told us that the church in the diocese of Niassa is growing but growing faster than its resources can cope with. He sounded like he had work-place stress. Most churches were out-stations, led by catechists (trainee priests). Some people would simply start a church, then declare it Anglican, because they knew the Diocese was good at helping its churches. Bishop Vicente said: the Diocese vision is to be a community of communities in Christ – “we are loved, to love others; blessed to bless others”. He said it was important that they were a church, not an NGO, their focus being people, not assets.

Sleep-Over
On 7 Sep it was a day of celebrations: Peace Accord Day, commemorating the end of the civil war in 1992. But better than that – Karen and I stayed at the welcoming home of Earnesto and Lucia Chocana.
We arrived mid-morning and Lucia immediately involved us in her daily life. We accompanied her to pick cassava leaves (I got told off for picking the older, shinier leaves) and fetch water.
Lucia carried something resembling a washing-up bowl, full to the brim, on her head, all the way back from the water pump. She then took us to the market to buy bananas and I bought a sugar cane about three times my height.

Lucia was very quiet but our interpreter, Morrissio was a garrulous, inquisitive young man. His style was to talk with us at length in English till he understood something; then go and talk at length with Lucia; then come back and tell us what’s going on. He was a delight. While the cooking was happening he and I played dice and talked.
Earnesto was a priest. The bishop turned up for a church meeting. Earnesto was looking after two parishes, which were enormous, so he had two churches and … 63 outstations (i.e. 63 more churches in his two parishes. The distances were enormous, the roads terrible and Earnesto’s motorbike was broken. The outstations were run by catechists (trainee priests).
Karen and Lucia worked hard: Lucia made two charcoal fires. She showed Karen how to pound and cook cassava leaves; and how to cut up an onion, and goat meat, in the open, without a chopping board.

The children played with a tennis ball Karen brought. Karen demonstrated to Lucia and some other women how to make English patchwork mats. Lucia eventually completed a mat. The women admired it and the Bishop said mats like these could be sold as a source of income.

Late afternoon and Lucia served lunch: and it was delicious: nsema (maize stodge), mataka (greens, beans, seasoning), goat.
In the early evening we went to dig some sweet potatoes. When we got back there was a pile of dry pigeon-peas, still in their pods, on the ground; and some short wooden sticks. I joined in bashing the pods. Pigeon-peas are tiny, shiny hard things, each one black, white or red. After a good bashing you can sweep empty husks off the top of the heap, and people scoop peas into broad shallow wicker baskets – the same ones we’d used when picking cassava leaves. Then you do some gentle shaking, swaying, jogging, till the remaining husks can be removed.

Suddenly we were told it was time for Karen & I to wash. Earnesto and Lucia’s house was upper middle class by local standards, their toilet was excellent – but if I were to live there it would be this room that would give me nightmares. It was a smelly short corridor with the toilet (I think a fancy seat above a long-drop, but not that long) part way down it. At its end was a low shelf to step over, and someone had furnished it with a bar of soap, a bucket of piping hot water and a little dish. Beside the loo was a huge bucket full of cold water. You could keep clean but it was that malevolent loo, busily stinking.
Later, outside, we listened to the noisy partying at a nearby Pentecostal church, and local beer shops. We ate bananas and fried up pigeon-pea pods. A drunk bloke turned up who sounded like a woman. He knew a little bit of English & pestered us for a bit. Lucia and some others washed dishes and boiled rice. Suddenly, with some ceremony, we were invited inside to watch telly in English. This was a brilliant day all through. I kept having to stop and ask myself “is this really happening”? I watched a documentary on Chinese opera, in English, in a room full of Lucia, Earnesto and their family, who were excited to give us this treat, but who could understand not a word of it. They served us more delicious food.
Our bedroom was small, sweaty, dusty, with scary-looking electrics. But it had a proper bed with a mosquito net. I slept really well. When I woke up at 5am there was still (already) loud party music going on around town.

Markets
There were plenty of colourful markets.

All the women liked these caplanas. Karen bought several. Here’s Geraldine trying one on.

Monguye
In the village of Monguye we met Catherine: we interviewed her under a beautiful thatch on thick poles. She left Mozambique during the war, lived in Malawi, married there, moved back here (both of them) after the war; had 1 living child & 6 ghosts. Catherine grew sesame, pigeon-pea, did well (chinese and Indian companies source sesame and pigeon-pea here for export, but I’m not sure whether Catherine sold to them). Catherine and her husband began making bricks, saved money for corrugated iron, built house; house blew down in a storm & now they’ve saved again & replaced the roof. The house was a reasonable size, well built with an outside toilet and kitchen.


Our lunch of chicken & rice was cooked there. It was a low thatched kitchen with a tiny door. We all went in. A woman was frying chicken feet & offered one to Geraldine.

There was evidence of another charity: ALMA: Anglican Link Mozambique and Angola (something like that). They had paid for the building of this school.

Because of the school four teachers had moved to Monguye and built their own houses. There were 609 pupils, taught in classes of 75, in half-day shifts, from age 6 thru to 14, in theory. The problem as ever, was the region’s extreme poverty. Any very bright kid should really have been going to a college in Milanje for further education – but the cost of that, including rent in the town, was way beyond anyone’s means. Much more likely was that girls would enter an arranged marriage, some from as young as 11; and boys of 14 would begin work: almost certainly pushing an over-laden bicycle to the market. Other evidences of development included: The community had cleared the road so that, though the road was still very rough, lorries could get through; this meant the teachers, mobile clinics and vendors could come to Monguye. The floor inside the church was made by the women from a mix of cow dung & sand, it was a really nice hard smooth floor. One man described going to the mountains to make bricks, burn them and bring them back for the church building work. Why? “Because of the love & the power of God”, he said.

They wanted space to dance in the church. Next they wanted a concrete floor, windows & a door; a hospital and a school.

Catechist Training
Two things inspired me to think that training the catechists was (is) very worthwhile. Firstly it was the church network across the Diocese of Niassa that was bringing Umoja and the various economic and social developments to these poor, remote, rural communities, and the Gospel. Secondly the church was over-stretched. priests could barely keep in touch with their dozens of churches, so they would appoint a catechist (trainee priest) who’s probably no more than a young church-goer who’s both committed and literate) to run the church. 21 catechists and deacons came for our training day; with fewer than half a dozen Bibles between them. The nearest place to get a Bible in Chichewa (the local language) was Blantyre in Malawi. Nobody, not even priests, had any Bible commentaries or concordances. Prior to 2009 ALMA, who funded the school in Monguye, had been paying for some basic training: how to lead a Bible study; but their fund-raising has dried up now. A priest who’d benefited from any training, was a rare thing.
The catechists were Joao, Louish, Stephano, Bernardo, Rodriguez, Earnesto, another Louish, one woman, called Foster, and I didn’t get the others’ names. Raphael was our interpreter.

We began with the assumption that they would expect a boring, lecturing style. We played an ice-breaker where they had the names of famous people, or animals, written on a post-it stuck to their fore-heads. They had a lot of fun, talking with each other. But the game failed (technically) because A) they had never heard of the ‘famous’ people: Bart Simpson, Queen Victoria; B) Karen and I forgot about the language gap and wrote the names of the animals in English! Oops. We got the catechists to share phone numbers with each other; and we sat them at tables where they all came from the same town. In the future they will (we hope) be each other’s best support.
Literacy was low. I asked the catechists to line up in alphabetical order of home town. About half their home towns began with the letter “M”; they weren’t able to sort on the second letter.
I must admit it was difficult. I am comfortable in teaching mode, in front of a flip-chart; but I soon had the catechists looking stressed, confused, tired. This exercise in making the catechists fall over, was one way of bringing them light relief.

James (our vicar) by contrast was a natch. Karen has experience teaching non-native speaking adults, and she gave me lots of tips. To revive the catechists at one point we stopped for a word game, Joao (who’d been the first to volunteer his phone number) had a game: he wrote “P”s on the board & then had a long sentence in which every word began with a P, something like Padre Pablo, please can I have passage to Portugal via Paris (it works in Portuguese). The game took off, and all the catechists had great fun, laughing, joining in, but James, Karen & I were none the wiser.

Post-Script
This poverty and inequality is not right. It makes us uncomfortable. We need to accept that discomfort and let it change us. How can poverty and inequality be dealt with? On the ground – by local partners, not ex-pats anymore. By changing mindsets and practises – here and at home, but in different ways
On the Tearfund Connected Church website, Umoja in Mozambique has an annual funding target of £40,000, currently it is funded to £5084 by 4 connected churches. click for Tearfund Connected Church page Another part of the site recommends that a UK connected church aims to pledge £10,000 a year for 3 years. It is clear that none of the 4 churches connected with Mozambique is reaching anywhere near that suggested amount.
As a church that has gone to the commitment and expense of having large groups visit Mozambique more than once, we (HTH) should be able to support our Connected Partner more, I think.

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