Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tshembeka - Faithfulness

Today my work included interviewing some folks involved with World Relief for a story that will be sent to our church partners in the U.S. I thought I'd share one story here as well.

Luisa Vilanculos, pastor of a 300 member church in Maputo (in red at right), is grateful to be a member of Tshembeka, the WR HIV/AIDS program in Mozambique. The community used to only hear about AIDS. Now they learn, they are open, they know what is dangerous and what is not. Her home and church have changed. She accompanies people for testing and supports them if it is positive. Luisa tells people, “You need to know if you’re well or not, not to live in the dark.”

Pastor Vilanculos shared that in Tshembeka they are like a family. They visit and help each other. Before Tshembeka came to their community they used to only visit believers. Now they go to any house, any religion. They have good relationships and sometimes serve as intermediaries in families. Some of the people they visit come to church now. The Tshembeka volunteers in the church care for 56 orphans and at least 60 people who are HIV positive. AIDS is increasing. Many are in denial and don’t want to be visited in their homes, but will go to other homes. Young people listen but don’t change. The pastor says, “Their spirits are dry. God needs to open their eyes.” Luisa talks about AIDS from the pulpit and tells the congregation that this is serious, it’s not a game.

Children are victims of youth and men. The rumor goes around that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS. So the church teaches their Sunday School children to be careful, and not take money from any men. The volunteers accompany them, they help them cook, clean and sometimes sleep there. Then the community knows that someone is looking after these children.

The pastor applied for a grant from the Mozambican government and it was granted for six months. With it she furnished clothes, food, school fees for orphans. She reapplied but was told she needed to have a project to make a profit for a revolving fund. They have not figured out what to do and so they are without funds once again. They have the will to help, but not the means.
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This is where we come in with ideas for microenterprises. Sadly, we can't reach everyone who would like a loan to get started, but we do what we can. We were very happy to learn that at least 11 chicken-raising groups have paid off their chicken house loans and are well on their way to having a sustainable business.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Finally Bilene

I felt like a math whiz last week during the microenterprise training course I taught at Iris Ministries. When that is the case it must be because other's math skills are really elementary! We were working on finding out how much a woman with a batik business spent per meter to get her finished product. It involved some division, addition and figuring percentages to come up with her final price. Some got it, but there were a lot of glazed over eyes as they tried it on their own in groups and then as I worked it out on the blackboard.

Sadly, this says a lot about the Mozambican educational system. Most of these people have at least a 7th grade education and they should have learned this by 4th or 5th grade, but apparently it wasn't learned or it didn't stick. But then, how much can you learn in only three hours per day? That's how long the average child is in school in the public system. On the news this week they reported on a school up north that was scheduled to be finished in 90 days but is still a shell with classes starting next week. They are planning to have 3,000 students sitting under the trees as their classroom. All the books and materials are stacked from floor to ceiling in the director's small mud room office. Somehow, I don't think much learning will take place in that setting.

At training I met a woman named Amelina (in center of picture). She was always there early, eager to learn and a good teacher as well. She told me she loved to crochet, so I gave her some thread and she showed me her handiwork. It is beautiful and she uses no patterns, just looks at things to reproduce them. She and her husband have three small children and no jobs. She says things “are bad.” She would love to crochet all day if she could find a market that would pay her what it is worth. If anyone reading this is interested in having something made, contact me or e-mail me a picture of what you’d like done and we can discuss it. I could bring things home in May when we come for meetings, graduations and Janelle and David’s wedding.

This week we spent time with the leaders of WR. First we made some home visits. The home my group went to was a family with six children 9 and under. Both parents have AIDS and the mother was just sitting under a tree and hardly able to move. His mother lives 1 km. away and they have no one else living with them. WR volunteers come by most days to check that they are OK. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to these six children when they are orphaned. They will receive some help with food, but who will train them, parent them and love them, see that they get their homework done, protect them? Nine is awfully young to be the head of a household, especially with a sickly infant. It’s hard to even imagine what it will be like for them.

We then traveled to two villages. In one village several of the WR leaders met with community leaders to talk about the model village that is being set up there. A large donor from the U.S. has designated money for that village and now the challenge is to use it appropriately with their input. We slept in tents and reed houses and I even saw a rainbow overhead from the roofless outhouse. That’s not an every day occurrence! It was also nice to see the field that is being prepared for an ag project. Some of the volunteers were out digging a trench for the irrigation pipes. Most jobs are done together in community, whether it’s carrying water, preparing food or digging.

The next stop was Bilene for our meetings. It is about a half hour off of the regular route we take when we go to Chokwe. (Rachel has always wanted to go there.) It is the slow season for tourism, so one of the hotels gave us a good deal. It is on a lagoon that felt like a big bathtub, with great Indian Ocean breezes. Each day after strategic planning (which sometimes got a bit long) we played beach volleyball with a soccer ball and now we have sore hands and arms, but it was a lot of fun. It was a good break from all the mental activity and sitting.

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