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Banhine

Day 4 – Through the Rural Communities

During these speedy visits, we don’t always find time to venture deep into the remote areas, into the rural communities where we are present in Banhine or Nhampfumine. But with some organization and a lot of goodwill from everyone, we planned our Saturday to visit the community of Banhine and the families of Chongoene.

The journey is one that’s hard to imagine. First sand, then sand amidst bushes, and towards the end, the path seems more imagined by the pickup truck’s wheels than what I can actually see. With admiration, I follow the instructions of our field officers, who seemingly out of nowhere indicate a left turn at a tree that looks like all the others. In a moment of remembrance of those who have passed, I recall Sister Aparecida, who fearlessly navigated these roads and closely accompanied these communities when on mission in Mozambique.

We only sense our arrival because we start to hear a song, and the building that rises (or falls) in front of us is slightly larger than the other local houses and has no roof. An old church serves as the community centre, where meetings are held, and we organize monthly distributions. The mothers (and some grandmothers) lead the welcoming songs, and some children timidly look at the arriving visitors.

Looking around, I try to think about what has changed. The landscape remains the same, and the size of the group is no different. But looking closely, I see many older children. It was hard to have children move on from the 7th grade in Banhine, but now we have several in the 10th, 11th, and even 12th grades. Gradually, the path of education is more accepted, and the children end up pulling each other along a bit.

Words are difficult but come from the heart. It’s a joy to reunite with them and see the children growing, thus being able to show the little ones at the front of the line that there is a path to follow. I give some work to Mano Ilídio, the ALG technician who knows each family up close and translates what I say to ensure it reaches everyone. What is the one thing ALG asks of all the mothers? That they send their children to school – “Afambi Escola!”

Next, I start individual conversations with the older ones. They start shyly, but gradually, we gain some volunteers. Here comes Juvêncio, Quitéria, Arlete, Hortênsia, and many more. To each one, I ask what they want to be when they finish the 12th grade – teachers and police officers are the most traditional answers, but I was impressed by the first girl who wanted to be an accountant and the boy who wants to be an engineer. Not everyone has an answer (or conviction), but they know they have a path to follow. As they approach the end, I remind them of the path they have travelled and the victory they have already achieved by getting there, so they don’t give up at the end of the road. To the girls, I make the special request that they don’t let themselves be swayed by empty promises and continue studying. Hugs multiply, and even some promises. “Promise me you’ll study a little more?”

In the end, the community Mamãs (mothers) treat us with great joy and much dancing, to which I can’t resist joining. It’s a frenzy from the youngest to the oldest. I want to share in the joy of the gratitude they feel and the opportunity they are trying to seize. I want them to know that I am with them and that every day I carry them in my heart.

The morning is progressing, but there is still much sandy road to cover. Visits to families in the Chongoene Mission are scheduled. In Madalena’s house, we find an organized home despite suffering from the rains threatening the walls. We find out Madalena suffers from chronic anaemia and asthma, and the hospital where she was being treated closed. We leave Coordinator Arnaldo in charge of directing the girl to another hospital so she can receive treatment again, and we hope she doesn’t have to miss school due to asthma crisis in the winter. She’s in the 11th grade, so close.

In Emília and Gervásio’s house, we see they have their hands full. On one side, laundry is being washed, on the other, the older brother is plastering the house with cement. They are making a small extension for the family of 7, as the Mamã still cares for the 3 grandchildren her eldest daughter left in her care when she went to Maputo. I praise what they can do and the love that is seen in the family, and once again, it’s time to leave.

After 5 visits, it’s time to let the team rest. And for me, to settle ideas and prepare for the following days. In the communities, the starting point is even further back than in any other of our projects at ALG. Sometimes it seems like we are not yet where we could be, but looking back at where we came from, it is with a smile that we celebrate small victories.

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