Hi all! I JUST got back into Mozambique after the most AMAZING weekend at the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland… I took hundreds of pictures, heard great bands from all over, froze my butt off, and went running with zebras. I will start posting about the weekend once I get home and have a chance but until then, here’s some more entertainment for you : ) Hope everyone had a GREAT Memorial Day Weekend!
I write a lot of random posts about life out here but I have thus neglected what it is I actually DO here. I have barely mentioned the work that I spend about forty hours a week doing! I figured I should take the chance to explain a little bit about my work for those who are curious what the heck I actually do in Mozambique besides stalk blogs and write random, rambling posts here.
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer (to read my Peace Corps story, check here) serving in a tiny beach town right on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern/central Mozambique. I work full-time at the sub-office of an international NGO, as the HIV/AIDS Mainstreaming Officer on a sustainable economic development project. The average Mozambican living in the rural areas and towns of northern Inhambane province (where we are based) lives in absolute poverty, on less than $1 a day.
Many development organizations and projects have arrived in the area and have attempted to remedy the situation by giving handouts (free food, monetary help, etc.), which ends up perpetuating the cycle of dependency, keeping people in poverty. My project has a different approach: proverbially teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish. Instead of handouts, the project trains people to participate and run commercial economic activities in a variety of areas, including Arts and Crafts, Livestock, Cashew, and village savings groups. By providing technical assistance and linkages with the market, the project hopes to develop participants’ economic activities to a profitable and sustainable level. Working with the Mainstreaming sector, my job is to make sure social issues including gender equality, involvement of the woman in household economic activities and decision making, and the economic and social effects of HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, are integrated into the work being done by the project. We also work with group capacity building (strengthening the group into its own independent unit), and I also do a variety of other work on the staff level, principally including health education and English classes.
Our “Mainstreaming Activities” are tools—little games, almost—that are used to provoke discussion amongst participants about these critical issues. The most useful is the Income and Expenditure Tree, in which the roots of the tree represent household income sources and the roots represent household expenditures, which is then used to discuss the importance on having several different income sources within the family to be more resistant to economic shocks and other emergencies that can arise. It can be used to discuss benefits of involving the woman more in the household, for example (“If the woman doesn’t participate in any activities or know anything about them, if the man dies, what will happen to the family?”) as well as HIV/AIDS and a variety of other topics.
We also lead discussions on the importance and advantages in working together in groups. Many people who are raising cattle, for example, do so individually, but being part of a grupo de criadores (livestock breeders) has myriad advantages: group sale to large-scale buyers, availability and streamlining of animal health care such as tick baths and vaccines, etc.) We have an activity called “walking blindly” in which we blindfold a person and make them walk a complicated course with no help—clearly, this usually ends unsuccessfully (but hopefully not in injury). Then the process is repeated—first, the blindfolded person receives verbal help from the other participants (much easier!). And lastly, the volunteer has two others walking on each side of him/her to gently guide through the course (even easier!!!) Then, we talk about how much easier tasks are with mutual support and why we should work together in associations.
One of my favorite things to do is facilitate HIV educational activities with participants and fellow staff members. Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a bunch of elderly women who participate in our basket-weaving component. (The women weave traditional baskets, which they are paid for, and are sold through the tourist market both locally and internationally.)
We played a game called “Elephants and Lions” that demonstrates the effect of HIV on the body and the immune system, followed by an animated discussion about HIV prevention and risks. A couple women in the group were HIV-positive, and played a very active role in helping to educate their peers about the dangers of the disease.
I also conduct activities with my staff whenever I get the opportunity, and it is always a learning experience—not only for them, but for me as well. At our last planning meeting, I did an activity where we discussed the levels of risk for HIV transmission of a variety of sexual activities—I “learned” that unprotected anal sex is a “low risk” activity. (Nope.) I am often surprised by what comes through during these activities, and love being able to take advantage of teachable moments—like using instant coffee to show why blood is so much more dangerous (in terms of HIV transmission) than saliva is!
I also, when I get the chance, try to display health information about various topics, not just HIV, in my office. I have a “health corner” where I post information periodically.
And perhaps the most fun new activity is the English class I have been leading with my roommate. It has been really fun and never ceases to be amusing. Plus, I get to speak English instead of Portuguese. I normally love speaking Portuguese, but explaining “why anal sex is more dangerous for the person receiving because of the micro-tears that can be created in the skin” in a foreign language is never really that fun.
With all being said, I love what I do here. But, it is chock full of challenges. It is easy to come out here thinking you are going to change the world and educate an entire African village about HIV but in reality, the person who changes most is you. People have been living the way they live for years and years before you arrive, and will continue to keep on living that way long after you leave. Behavior change takes time, and no matter how hard we work, we might not see any differences in our two years. With all of these obstacles, it is easy to get jaded, completely confounded and overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems from HIV to poverty that we are just not always capable of dealing with. No, I am not going to save a village from AIDS nor will I pull hundreds of people out of poverty. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. I can’t do EVERYTHING, but I CAN do SOMETHING. And finding that pervading optimism in my work, no matter what challenges are in front of me, is what I strive for.
And when all else fails, sometimes when I am working, a monkey will stop by to say hi. Who can complain about that?
So now you know how you spend my time… I want to know how you spend yours! What’s your job? What are the challenges?