Though the distance is only 70 kilometers, the drive from Hands at Work Mozambique coordinator Carlos Guia’s house to the community of Nhamatonda, which Carlos has identified as the first of three expansion project sites he hopes to launch this year, is almost 2 hours long. The road is full of potholes and wobbling bicycles overloaded with sacks of charcoal and vegetables—desperate men and women struggling to sell anything to earn a living.
Nhamatonda is a desperate community, and Carlos has begun to mobilize churches here to step up to God’s call to care for widows, orphans and the dying. In July Carlos took me to meet families the Nhamatonda church has identified as extremely vulnerable in their community. Volunteers from local churches have begun visiting these families. They don’t have funds to provide material support for now, but in the mean time they are doing what they can to encourage the families and remind them they are not alone.
On a bare patch of dirt in the bush outskirts of the community I met Jaos (9) and Luisa (7): a brother and sister that lived under a tarp tied to a tree. Their mother died last year and their father was in an accident and can't use his arm or earn income. In April the family’s few clothes, blankets and cooking pots were stolen from beneath the open tarp, and church volunteers found the kids shivering in the cold winter evening.
Jaos and Luisa pass entire days without a meal. The only food they get is by begging from other already poor neighbors or by offering to pound (by hand) a neighbor’s corn kernels into flour for a fee of a handful of the flour. Neither of them is in school. They can’t afford exercise books or pens. But without food, they couldn’t concentrate enough to learn anyway.
The volunteers who discovered the family returned the next day to build a small single room with grass walls to at least shelter the wind. When I met them, the kids hadn’t eaten in a day. They had a single set of clothes: Luisa’s dress and Jaos’ jean jacket, so crusty they would stand on their own. Despite it all, they immediately sat with us when we arrived and flashed smiles that would break your heart.
In another place in the community was Amelia (12), the middle child in a family of 6 kids. Her father died last year. He was a farmer. When he got sick he sold both his fields for medicine but died anyway. Now Amelia’s mother is sick. The family now has no real source of income and they also feed themselves by begging for food or selling firewood at the roadside.
None of the kids are in school; they stopped going because they were so hungry and because with no soap to wash clothes they were constantly teased by other kids because of their smell. When I met the family, I was sitting on a plastic pail in the yard speaking to the sick mother. It was noon, and Amelia came walking in with a bundle of sticks on her head. She had left at 5am to walk to the bush to find the wood: 7 hours, alone in the bush. I didn’t have to ask her why that was dangerous.
The heart of Hands at Work is to mobilize the African church to reach the continent’s most vulnerable children, to reach 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children that would otherwise not be reached. And we are striving to reach them by the end of 2010 by caring for the basic health, education and food security of each child at just $15 per month.
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