Monday, December 29, 2008

Lovin' Mozambique

One of our favorite bloggers is African Kelli, who lives in the US but has spent some time in Mozambique. And she is guest posting for us today, reminding us of all the reasons we're missing Mozambique!

The first time I traveled to Mozambique, I was 23, greener than a new shoot of bamboo and completely unprepared for what faced me stepping off the tiny 12-seater plane from Johannesburg.

I'd traveled for 48 hours to arrive in Beira, leaving my home in Phoenix, Arizona to work on a new public health project in rural Mozambican villages. My employer -- a small international health nonprofit -- was interested in establishing community-based health projects to improve the staggering HIV, cholera and malaria statistics.

At the time, Mozambique had one of the shortest lifespans internationally -- just 37 years. I am afraid today it isn't much better. However, the work I was able to do during my five years of managing the project made a slight dent in the overwhelming tide of disease and despair.

During these years, I traveled back and forth from Phoenix to Beira half a dozen times, making great friendships and strides in the process. Our small health projects fanned out to 11 villages near Beira -- the largest port city in Mozambique.

Village life is simple, sweet and unfortunatley today -- one of complete and total chaos due to disease and poverty. Mozambicans are some the kindnest folk in the world. It is not uncommon to see a young woman with a new baby wrapped in a capulana on her back, in the middle of a rice filed hoing her crops and signing along to herself. Children chase after foreigners, fueled by curiosity and happiness. Folks tend to smile more than not and just about everyone wanted to shake my hand, ask me what I was doing there and understand where I'd come from.

We'd partnered with another NGO to make our projects work and be more efficient. In this process, we helped train more than 150 activistas -- or health promoters -- to go into their communities and speak about HIV, cholera and malaria prevention and treatment. Within this time, we saw a reduction of malaria and a 60% drop in cholera. Simple steps in public health make a huge difference. Teaching folks to sleep under mosquito nets and the cause of malaria made many more tuck themselves and their children under the protective netting each evening. Emphasizing the importance of latrine and soap use to protect the water table and to prevent cholera completely changed behaviors. "Night soil" became less of an issue and children were not being rushed to overflowing clinics in the final and messy stages of cholera infection.

HIV continues to rage through Mozambique. The women I worked with rarely had the option of deciding who they would have sex with. Instead, men dominate and monogamy is not common in village life. However, more and more folk are becoming familiar with HIV and with the life-extending antiretrovirals.

Bill Gates is an amazing man for a variety of reasons, but he has my forever admiration for bringing these expensive and complicated drug regimens to Mozambique. Not only does the Gates Foundation fund GATVS -- HIV clinics -- but they also pay for all antiretrovirals for those willing to take the drugs. These drugs are helping pregnant women keep the virus from their unborn children. They are providing an additional 20 years of life to those willing to stick with the routine. They are not a cure, but they are a Bandaid so this generation can be productive and can raise their children to be disease-free. They provide hope for the future of Mozambique and many African countries.

When I am in Moz, I am more alive. It is hard to put to paper the rush of emotions; I feel connected to my faith with every breath. I feel incredibly and stupidly lucky and grateful for the life I've been given. I feel overwhelmed by poverty and enlightened by the cheerful screams of children running on a soccer field. I feel love and optimism for the orphans of Mozambique. I feel exhausted and embarrassed when I return home. Nothing prepares you for returning to American life -- with its incredible luxuries and extravagance -- when you've spent 6 weeks spending every evening in an orphanage with children clinging to life.

After my trip this summer, I accepted a new position at a different NGO in Phoenix and don't have any immediate plans of returning to Moz. That said, I can easily see myself returning the moment international adoption is allowed. I love that country for its promise and hate it for its corruption. I want the very best for Mozambique and hope to continue my relationship one way or another.

I am incredibly lucky and truly blessed for the opportunities I've been given to travel and work with the poor. Nothing in life is more gratifying.


dani said...

dear esme and j...
thank you for sharing kelli's words:) kelli, isn't it wonderful when your calling turns out to be a blessing to not only those you are helping but to you as well!!! keep on keeping on, you dear soul:)

grace said...

I came over from AfricanKelli to read the essay, but I'll be stoping by again.

Colleen said...

Oh Kelli, so heartfelt and well said.
Thank you all for your work and dedication to what sounds like a magical place on earth.

♥ Somebody Loved ♥ said...

I admire your service to others less fortunate than yourself... wow. It is inspiring to read your words.

In America I really do believe that we have shortchanged ourselves by letting our lives get all mucked up with hundred mile per hour lifestyles... we miss out on the simple pleasures that life can afford.


Junie Moon said...

I'm so glad to see Kelli's essay here. She has such a good heart and sharing the plight of the people she and others work to help is wonderfully inspiring. I also admire Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation for the work they do.

SunnyInspiration said...

Lovely. Heartfelt. You make me want to go to Africa. Thanks for all the good you do to help people--you help people everywhere.

Tealady said...

I traveled here from Kelli's blog to read her essay. Thank you, Kelli, for your servant heart. You make the world a better place.

All the best,