Seeds of Hope: How one American woman is helping Africa help itself

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Duarte claimed this plot of land in 1986 after his village, caught in the middle of Mozambique's civil war, was looted and set on fire. His family fled during the night, taking with them only what they could carry. Here the community gathered again, started over, building houses of sticks and stones and smearing mud over top to hold it all together. Duarte used an old canvas tarp as a roof, securing it with rocks and old tires.

It wasn't an ideal set up.

When it rained — a daily occurrence during springtime in Mozambique — the mud melted off the walls and the canvas leaked.

"I never knew if my house would be there at the end of the day," Duarte said. "It would just disintegrate. I would have to rebuild it."

When the village was still in the process of establishing itself, Duarte, along with several others, were kidnapped by a rag-tag rebel force while buying sugar and shipped off to fight the country's civil war. At home, the women made do. They drank what water they could find. They didn't have latrines, so they relieved themselves in the bushes. When people got sick, someone would hoist them up onto their back and make the hour and a half trek to the nearest hospital on foot. Things didn't get better when Duarte returned. Life had a rhythm: find food, sleep, find food.

"We just tried to get from one day to the next," Duarte said.

The villagers greeted Care for Life warily. Many non profits had come, bringing with them gifts and promises. The gifts never lasted. The non profits always left. The village remained unchanged. There were many things the villagers wanted for their community — a health clinic, a well, a better school. Care for Life didn't offer to install any of them. In fact, they informed them they wouldn't be giving the villagers anything — at least until they'd earned it.

"I was very suspicious," said Joao Chandirica Manuel, the political leader of Ngupa, a village where Care for Life works. "I thought, 'What can these people do for us?'"

But Care for Life got glowing reviews from the locals. The villagers agreed to give it a try.

"Maybe we wouldn't gain, but we had nothing to lose," Manuel said.

Care for Life asked each family to make goals.

Hoping to expand their road-side business selling snacks, Duarte and his two teenage sons signed up to take Care for Life's income generation class. His wife, who had no formal education, made a goal to learn to read and do basic math. As a cheap way to put food on the table and add variety to the children's corn-heavy diet, the family decided to plant a garden. They made a goal to dig a latrine, start burning their garbage and treat their water. School became a priority. Once a week the three younger children attended a club where they learned about self esteem, leadership, values and how to protect themselves from HIV.

For their part, Care for Life brought education. Villagers had access to classes in nutrition, agriculture, business, literacy, conflict resolution and health — among others. Care for Life employees helped them work out the kinks of applying what they'd learned.

Care for Life rewarded the villagers for their diligence, too. After Duarte built a rudimentary latrine using sticks, the nonprofit donated some cement to the effort. For faithfully attending classes and treating his water and garbage on a regular basis, he got cement to build strong walls for his house, corrugated metal to replace the canvas on his roof and mosquito nets to protect his children from malaria. As a community, the village earned a bicycle ambulance that made trips to the hospital quicker and easier.

From the beginning, the villagers were expected to shoulder much of the responsibility of implementing the Care for Life program. The families were divided into zones, with each selecting a leader. Zone leaders checked in with each family weekly to assess their progress on goals. Other people from the community were asked to become teachers. They attended seminars on various topics ranging from health to home improvement, then returned to their neighbors to share their knowledge.

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