February 11th – Sunshine and fun

Everyone woke very early today. We had all slept well, under the mosquito nets. It was a glorious morning, with a brilliant sunrise, and a pleasant breeze from the Indian Ocean. The monkeys were perched high in the treetops at the edge of the hotel, and people were already setting out into the gently sloping hills to go to work in the fields.

It was 5:30 am, and all seemed well in this world. Of course, it isn’t.

Over breakfast, Peter was telling us how the tradition of brothers taking care of the wives of their dead siblings is a significant issue. Not the tradition of caring for the family – that is critical. But there is a belief that having sex with the brother will release the widow from her angst over the death of her husband. And if the husband died of Aids, what becomes of the brother and the rest of his family? That is the problem. No easy answers, although informed debate and education seem key, balancing long standing cultural needs with today’s realities.

We spoilt ourselves with a short walk along the beach. Like a bunch of kids, we dipped our feet into the surf, laughing and letting off steam. Then we split into two groups.

Provincial Government

Samuel led our group, to meet the Gaza Provincial Governor, Rosario Lualeia. Like all Governors, he was appointed directly by the President. Like all Governors, he was late.

Structurally, each Province has a Department Head that mirrors the Government Ministries. The Judiciary is of course separate, and there are no separate Provincial taxes. But virtually everything else that happens in Gaza passes over the Governor’s desk.

Governor Lualeia said that the Province had a nucleus of specialists working on the orphan issue, and asked that Save the Children help, especially at Community and Village level, and with new funding. He believed that Gaza was very prone to the spread of HIV as a) many of the men were miners in nearby South Africa, and they caught HIV there, and b) many of the young widows in Gaza were promiscuous. Now, it is difficult to deny his comments – both are almost certainly true. We just would have wished for a broader attack on the need to educate everyone about HIV / Aids.

If the HIV infection rate nationally in Mozambique is 13/14%, we’d guess it approached 20% here amongst the adults. Driving out of town past the park, we couldn’t help but noticing the Aids awareness symbols painted on the trees. We did not see any signs for home made coffins, as we had in Lilongwe.

Child-headed household

Our next stop was the Julius Nyerere Village, where we met with a young family who had lost their parents and most of their kin. The head of the household of 4 is Felizmina Maposse (aged 14). Her siblings are Jaime (8), Maida (7) and Precida (4). They can only afford for Jaime to go to school.

Whilst we all enjoyed the visit, and playing with the children in the bright sunshine, this visit raised issues amongst us not unlike that of Mangochi Hospital. Whilst we need to understand how the very many child-headed households work, were we unduly singling out this family from their community? Why should we interrupt their difficult enough routines? What would an anthropologist say?

School programs

The final stop was at Magul, to visit the school and to see the Youth activities. It is a big facility, with 940 students from 6 to 17 years old. There are 14 teachers, and 10 school rooms – it was opened in 1995. Shades of Cambodia, although bluntly spoken the children here were in better educational shape than in Anlong Veng & Trapang Prasat. The programs here were similar to those we had seen in other villages – drama, singing and self help groups. Here, though, the school was the focus and not the village itself.

From here we had a long drive back into Maputo. When we arrived, some of us met a local NGO to compare notes, and some went to a Photographic Exhibition on “Living with Aids” which was photographed by Magnum, and sponsored by the National Aids Council. And some spent time at the American Embassy meeting with the Ambassador and advisors. Somehow we never managed to find more than a few moments to compare notes – that will come tomorrow.

February 12th – National Aids Council

Today was packing day, although we had one last appointment to keep. We met Janet Mondlane, the Executive Secretary of the National Aids Council. Janet was born in the US, but has been in the Country since 1962, and has long held Mozambican nationality. The Council was founded by the ex President of Mozambique, and is probably the pre-eminent coordinating authority in the Country.

Janet described her job as helping to bring together a vast array of NGO’s, researchers and Government Departments who have differing agendas but one overall goal – reduce the threat of Aids. The most important partner is the Ministry of Health, with the Ministry being “curative” and the Council being “preventative”. The Council’s strategic focus is on encouraging programs which are:

  • Multisectoral – which means everyone has to give up something in return for the greater good and impact
  • Community based – which puts a lot of pressure on good reporting and financial management

Janet is very interested in working with Save the Children, especially on COPE type programs, as the methodology is exactly in line with their approach. One of the issues is that much work needs to be done in the Northern Provinces, whereas most of the funding is for the South. A Council focus is to build prevention programs where incidence of HIV is relatively low – which effectively means starting in the Central area of the Country, and then go North. Save will meet with Janet after we left to figure out how best to partner – possibly building on the food security programs and access the Agency has in the North.

Another critical Council activity is setting up a comprehensive database to highlight success and “holes” in the programs across the Country. Malawi has a CRIS database, courtesy of UNAIDS, and the Council is about six months away from completing theirs.

There is a “Common Fund” which the Council has created to provide for projects. On the issue of control, in Janet’s view it doesn’t matter if things are centralized or not – as long as it is good work, and the Council knows about it to be able to encourage learning and replication.

Rather tellingly, Janet expressed the view that stigma is not the same in all countries. In Mozambique, she felt massive change would only happen when “they were selling coffins in the street, and the orphan issue was as big as Uganda had”. In fact I made a mental note to check further the Ugandan story. Apparently some key elements in that Country’s turnaround seem to be focusing on impact mitigation on children, giving them the right to choose who will care for them, and establishing clear children’s property rights. It is also clear that the society’s focus moved from “extended family” more towards “local community”.

We discussed “Why should the West care”? Janet pointed us towards speeches by Tony Blair & Gordon Brown, and by Bill Clinton. Ignore the partisan, and focus on the core issues. Yes, it is a crucial humanitarian test for the world. But in Janet’s view, Aids in Africa is also a National Security issue. It directly affects the UK and the Commonwealth Countries, and threatens the US via disaffected and desperate people.

A final, positive comment. “Aids is bringing Communities together as nothing has before – we need to harness that spirit”. It was a wonderful summation for the entire trip.

The group said their farewells to Janet and other members of the Council, and headed to a debriefing lunch with the Save staff. It was a fairly short trip after that to the airport, en route to Europe and the US via South Africa.

We had learnt a lot, and needed time to pull all the threads together. But it would be an understatement to say that we had been touched by all we had seen and heard. Let us hope we can make a difference.

Day 1 – Mozambique

Day 2 – Xai Xai

Day 3 & 4 – Maputo

mickyates2. Maputo