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

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

Duarte was elected zone leader. His son, Castro, 18, volunteered to help teach other villagers how to read and write. His wife became the community health liaison. She attended workshops where she acquired basic medical knowledge. When villagers are sick, she coordinates a community effort to get people to the hospital.

"Before, she was just a woman and he was just a boy," Duarte said. "But now they have something to share with their community."

This morning finds Duarte hard at work smashing rocks with a hammer. He'll mix the rocks with the cement to make a floor for his latrine. He shows off his little home with pride. He's completed his Care for Life goals, but he isn't done with goal making. Since then, he's built a cooking hut and installed electricity in his home.

At first, Duarte said, he worked because he wanted to earn rewards from Care for Life. In the end, he worked because he realized his life was better.

"Other organizations come to give goods," Duarte said. "Care for Life comes to give work. For that, I am grateful."

Duarte has a lot of theories about why he and his neighbors didn't do these things before. "We were poor." "We didn't believe in ourselves." "We were lazy." "We didn't know we should."

"I did not know what it was to make a goal," said Joao Alexandre Salva, a 51-year-old villager. "When you are so poor, I think you stop believing that things can be different. It made me feel powerful as a father to make these decisions for the good of my family."

Care for Life took away their excuses, gave them education and a reason to try, Duarte said. And before long, the community began to change. There's now a lively market at the center of the village — small businesses increased by 26 percent. The path in front of Duarte's house, once unusable because people relieved themselves anywhere and everywhere, is now clean and bright. The percentage of people using latrines increased from less than 40 percent to close to 90. The trash heaps that used to dominate public walkways are gone. Ninety-seven percent of villagers now burn or bury their garbage.

As the community cleaned up, so did the villagers' health.

Duarte remembers a time when there were two funerals a day in his village. In his own home, malaria was a monthly visitor. He lost two sisters to cholera. They didn't know all the simple things they could do to prevent cholera and malaria like using latrines and clean water, he said. "We didn't know how to save our children."

Today, it's been nearly six months since Duarte has taken a child to the hospital. It turned out to be a false alarm. To his relief, the little 9-year-old didn't have malaria after all.

"I will probably never stop worrying," he said.

Hope on the horizon

In Mozambique, death still confronts Cindy Packard at every turn. The man the nonprofit employs to guard their offices in Beira lost his entire family. At church, she asks friends how they've been doing. They reply with stories of disease and loss. But, slowly, one person at a time, things are changing. The death rate in Care for Life villages has improved by an average of 77 percent.

Some might say Care for Life saved Chiverano. Duarte would not.

"Care for life taught us how," he said. "We did the work ourselves."

And that's exactly how Packard wants it.

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com

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