Creating Change Across Different Communities in Africa
I began my journey in Nelspruit, South Africa, where I stayed at the Ehmke house with other short and long term humanitarian volunteers. From here we confirmed our visas and transported ourselves and our medical supplies up along the coast and across the border to Mozambique. Once there, I spent a week in Maputo, Mozambique's economically stable yet somewhat dangerous capital city, helping out with Project Purpose.
I helped out with paper work at the head office, which included calculating taxes and editing proposals. In addition to office work, I was able to make a number of home visits to see the girls and their families. This organization is designed to educate girls in prostitution on health and safety issues, and ultimately help them break free of their bondage and seek out their greater purpose in life. The Director of the organization and I spent most of the week with the children of the girls, building trust through swimming activities and sharing in their world, coming to learn their hopes and strengths, and monitoring their health. Making home visits to meet with the girls and assess their safety at home was a difficult journey, but also eye opening to see how socially constructed their worldview is, and how ingrained patriarchy is within their system and worldview. With the Director as my translator, speaking Shona, I was able to communicate with some of the girls, and provide psycho-education and support. My time in this area doing such challenging work was priceless, and the exposure and knowledge I gained regarding cultural and historical paradigms was fundamental in my learning as a short term volunteer in Mozambique.
The most difficult outreach days in the rural community just outside of the capital were those spent at the Boccaria, the city dump, where families live in the most desperate of situations. The smell of burning plastic in the 40 degree weather, with relentless flies, and dirty, hungry and crying children is still a very real image that is burned into my memory forever. It is one thing to witness these circumstances as a visiting outsider, but to know that people live this reality everyday is incomprehensible—to live this way is not human, and my heart was heavy as I struggled to understand why some people get dealt such a terrifying hand in life—how can such a reality exist for so many people throughout Africa? These and other questions still hang heavy for me now that I have been back and living in such a different reality.
While at the city dump, we provided basic wound care, distributed necessary medication, distributed bread and water, offered support for the children and families and their broken homes, and gathered the children together for games and songs to help build community and morale in such horrible living conditions. It was also our priority to meet regularly with the grandmothers in the area who were overwhelmed with care giving and feeding their extended families. The team had built such a strong relationship with the grannies and aunties in the area that they would leave their children with us as to take part in activities and education so that they could do the laundry, water collection and farm work. This opportunity for respite, seniors networking and outreach for the most overworked and unrecognized group in Africa—older women (grannies)—was a blessing, and their appreciation was overwhelming as they continuously offering food and chickens to us, which is such an incredible sign of genuine appreciation.
As we traveled through many of the small communities and larger villages it became clear that everyone, in some way, was in need of support, and this was at times overwhelming. In the end, the majority of my trip was spent at Maforga, working under Africa 180 as a support for the clinic both for the Healthy Babies Program initiative and the Family Empowerment and Restoration Program. I worked closely with local and foreign nurses, local support staff, and workers at the orphanage. There were over 300 babies on the program, which indirectly meant over 600 people were supported by the clinic, as grannies, mothers, caregivers and older siblings would accompany the babies to the clinic and be in need of medical attention; this was also the first point of medical care for all staff, workers and children at the orphanage.
Our team also took part in numerous home visits in addition to the clinic-based work, as many villagers would notify us of dying patients that were not able to walk the many miles it took to reach the clinic. In addition to medical attention, including: check-ups, weigh-ins, eye and ear exams, monitoring of antiretroviral (ARV) medication, distribution of vitamins, doxycycline, amoxicillin, erythromycin, and oral dehydration solutions, to name a few, we also distributed basic food supplies, such as oil, milk (particularly for mothers who could not breast feed because of their HIV infection), raw sugar, and any additional maize or beans, depending on the family’s circumstance. Our team was also engaged in psycho-education, medical education to groups of caregivers, and basic health and hygiene presentations to all youth (in child-headed households), caregivers and grannies, and adults who received ongoing care at the clinic. These educational pieces were conducted on an ongoing basis and were fundamental to creating sustainable living and self-care for many of the rural communities—particularly during drought season when water contamination, high rates of malaria and rampant cholera outbreaks.
Both at the clinic and in the hospital I supported mothers who were experiencing labour difficulties, complications with pregnancy or who needed advanced medical intervention for their respective conditions, and ensured the care for all other children that were with the mothers. I made visits to family members of the female client that was in critical care, and was responsible for placing the child with the appropriate family member after the death of their mother. Maintaining this close community connection was a priority both with our organization and for families in the area, as an orphanage should only be the last resort for a child, particularly if there are extended family members that are willing and able to care for an additional child. My role as clinical and family support worker involved many challenges, from medical crises to grief and loss support, to family empowerment and reunification, and ongoing basic education, all of which brought many struggles and joys along the way.
As the clinic was based on Maforga property near the orphanage, I was also given the opportunity to work individually with both the toddlers and some of the older children at the Maforga orphanage in Gondola. Given my professional training background as a counsellor, one of my priorities was to provide love and compassion to these resilient but also very broken children. I set out to work with them on their self-expression and help them process their emotional struggles of loss, abandonment, abuse, and, for some, terminal illnesses. I spent many hours with the children either taking part in daily chores or walking for many kilometers to collect water and fruit, and allowing them the space to share their personal hardships.
With a few volunteers who had instruments, we were able to create lyrics and songs that expressed the emotion within these children’s lives. Throughout the weeks when our days were too much to bear, we joined with the children and encouraged them to give voice to their pain through song. What would be considered music therapy in Western culture; we created songs together and sang with the children and the teenagers—raising our voices in English, Shangan, and Portuguese. It was amazing to see the universal language of music drawing our hearts together as one large group that could transcend culture, race, age and gender. We witnessed daily tragedies and miracles in the hospital and throughout the village, yet we were still able to sing and dance together and hope in community for a better life for the children of Mozambique, and for the future of the nation.
Another aspect of my volunteer work while in Gondola and Chimoio included assisting the staff
of “Hands at Work” in Rubatuno, a nearby community. This organization was committed to providing medical support, social service outreach and education support for 500+ orphans throughout Gondola, as well as in the Nyamatanda and Inchope areas. I received an orientation at the “Hands at Work” base, and traveled with a team of two nurses into village to make home visits with the orphans and families that were on the client care list. The nurses completed all necessary medical procedures, such as general examination of infections, ailments, and any other client concerns. For the most part visits would also include assessing the need for hospital care both for Rubatuno patients and anyone else in the remote areas that may not otherwise have access to medical care. When visiting with orphan children, we would spend time discussing their food supply and housing situation, their progress in school, as well as their community supports.
It was a priority both for Rubatuno and for Africa 180 to join all orphans with surrounding families as a point of contact, support and way of rebuilding loss of attachment that most of these children have experienced. In most cases, a granny in the village, who typically was left to care for a number of her grandchildren because the mothers have died of AIDS, would take on the responsibility of checking in on the orphan children’s homes. In this way, community supported living allowed many of the orphans that we say to feel connected and cared for, not only by their foster agency (Rubatuno) but also by other familiar families within their village. These children then have the opportunity to grow up together, as siblings, and with as much of a family in their lives as is possible.
In addition to home visits, which would also include trips to the hospital, clinic, pharmacy, and transporting clients to different parts of the village, either to their farms or church—a distance too far for many to ever walk, I was also part of the sustainability team, which resembled the farming team in Gondola with Africa 180. There were hundreds of chickens that were being raised for selling and feeding clients and staff that had to be fed, coops cleaned out, and building taken care of. Many crops had to be tended to as well, and some days I was able to assist with collecting water from the well, and loading the farming truck with stalks of beans, sugar cane, bananas, oranges, and different vegetables depending on the week of harvest. I also helped to harvest the beans, one of the main sources of protein, fiber and vitamins in that region, I picked and broke open countless pods, removed and separated seeds, and helped carry and store the barrels of shelled beans for preparation.
Having the chance to grow alongside other committed and hard working volunteers and support workers was phenomenal, and being granted the opportunity to love on all the children at the clinic, orphanage and in the surrounding community was a blessing. The families I connected with, the rich and meaningful conversations and stories we shared, and having the honour to bear witness to so many hardships, losses, joys and love all at the same time was like no other experience I could have ever imagined or planned for. My trip ended at the beginning of July, but my heart still remains in Africa.