Gilda Gwambe and Filomena Valente had very different starts to life, but living in Maciene, Mozambique they shared similar, seemingly impassible, obstacles. Maciene is a village of little over 300 people, struggling for survival through increasingly desperate living conditions.
“The vast majority of families live in thatched mud-reed houses and use straw mattresses for sleeping. Some households have built latrines while others use the bushes to alleviate their bodily needs. Possessions like chairs, tables and cutlery are a luxury for many families of Maciene,” shares Eduarda Cipriano, President of NGUNI, Esperança’s partner in Mozamique.
Most households are headed by single-mothers or the elderly, who have very few work opportunities and often rely solely on the consumption of what food they can produce at home and humanitarian assistance, like that of Esperança.
The most common child illnesses of the area are malaria, diarrheas, and respiratory diseases. The local health post has no doctor, nor ambulance. Emergency patients use public transportation to reach the hospital in Xai-Xai, some 20 miles from Maciene.
Gilda found out she was pregnant with her first child two years ago at the age of 19. But she was not filled with the typical joy of an expectant mom. She was terrified. Gilda’s parents passed long ago from complications of HIV and she now lived with her grandmother, the two of them surviving on the few crops that grow in an area so devoid of water.
Luckily, her son was born with no complications, but it wasn’t long before the boy grew feeble and couldn’t stand, too malnourished to learn to walk…
In the same village lives Filomena Valente, a single mother of five. Her children were born from five different fathers. She does not know her age, but Esperança’s activists estimate that she might be in her forties.
Recently, Filomena began losing weight and growing pale in complexion. She, like Gilda’s son, became feeble and began to fear for her life…
Intervention, Thy Name is Belinha
Esperança’s program in Mozambique is strongly relationship-based. Community Health Activists, like Belinha, working one-on-one with community members to figure out what is ailing them. The most common cases stem from poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition, and a stigma/unawareness of HIV/AIDS in the area. “Tia Belinha” as the locals lovingly call her, is one such activist, hoping to educate the community and change the conversation about HIV/AIDS, a disease that plagues roughly 25% of inhabitants.
“Tia Belinha came to me and told me to come to the Mabumwine Centre every Wednesday at 12 so I could meet other women and get counseling,” Gilda shared.
From that first Wednesday at the community center, Gilda received so much more than she ever could have hoped. The activists taught her how to make nutrient-dense recipes for her son, and how she could keep him from falling ill with good hygiene habits. As Gilda cleaned her home and learned to wash her hands, his diarrhea went away! As Gilda made bean soup, he grew stronger and began to walk and even to play!
When food is scarce at Gilda’s home, the activists provide groundnuts and maize flour so she can cook enriched porridge for her son. Other times, she is given sugar or condensed milk.
Activists also counselled her that during times when food is low, her son’s nutritional needs should come first, as he is growing and developing.
“Overall, I’m not scared any more. I know what to do for my son, and he will grow up healthy.”
Filomena’s grew weaker by the day. But even still it took a bit of convincing, prompting and the promise from Belinha to be with her when she finally agreed to get tested for HIV. The doctor visit came just in time.
The result came back positive.
Filomena immediately became a part of Esperança’s program for procuring the antiviral medication for HIV positive community members. Each month, one community member travels to the hospital with an Esperança Community Health Activist, like Belinha, and they pick up the medication for the entire village.
Filomena never missed a treatment after her diagnosis.
She continues to thank Belinha, the activist who “rescued” her and begs that the project keeps going to help others who might not know they are infected before it is too late. And that could be their death.
“I can’t imagine what would happen to the children of other single parents, like me.”
The community center and the activists themselves serve as a source of refuge for the villagers of Maciene, who often feel alone and hopeless.