It seems somewhat serendipitous that my first post falls on the same day as the swearing in of the new President, Filipe Nyusi, under the familiar Frelimo party. The ceremony is a national event with government organizations, businesses, and hospitals closing their doors to watch as the newly elected president takes office. Fellow health volunteers from around the country are writing online of arriving for work at the hospital only to find staff and administration limited to a few personnel while patients wait for treatment.
The ceremony follows a highly contested election among the already reigning party, Frelimo, and its primary opposition, Renamo and Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) (Bloomberg). While the Renamo party still argues that the election wasn’t fairly organized or implemented, the votes were cast and counted with Frelimo winning the majority of the votes with higher percentages in the southern part of the country than the north. Now begins another term under the Frelimo party just as the infrastructure of the country is called into question with massive flood damage, loss of life, and thousands displaced because of collapsed bridges and destroyed homes (BBC).
A Flood of Information
I am writing this entry from a packed bar in my community of Namapa, a medium-sized town in the northern part of Nampula province near the border of the province of Cabo Delgado and built along the main stretch of highway that connects the north to the south. The bar is filled with people at 10:30 a.m. to not only watch the coverage of the ongoing inauguration ceremony in the south, but also because for the past three days the entire northern half of the country has been without power due to the floods. The bar owner offers the electricity from his diesel-powered generator for community members to charge their telephones and get updates on the status of the rest of the country.
Stories about the damage are pouring in from around the country through news outlets, social media, and conversations with close friends who are either witnessing the damage first hand or hearing from other volunteers about being stranded due to collapsed bridges. Some of the more devastating stories are coming from the town of Mocuba in the Zambezia province, where a collapsed bridge led locals to attempt to swim across the river. A fellow volunteer who was visiting the area called to recount the sight of the bridge disintegrating under the river. Displaced persons are interviewed on the local news and speak about moving forward, rebuilding, and preventing future events.
Progress & Development in a Developing Country
The country of Mozambique is gorgeous with its lush landscape, miles of beaches along the Indian Ocean, and architecture from both the time before independence and the time after. The country gained independence in 1975 and is still in the process of developing its infrastructure, growing its economy, and planning for the future. One of the ways in which the country is looking forward is through partnerships with international organizations, including the Peace Corps, for which I currently serve as a health volunteer.
I arrived in Mozambique at the beginning of June, 2014, and was placed at my permanent site at the beginning of August of the same year. The organization for which I’ve been serving is ICAP, an international non-governmental organization out of Columbia University dedicated “to improve the health of families and communities.” As the first health volunteer to be placed at my site, expectations were both inexplicably high as well as a tad off base. Basically, the local staff at the hospital had no idea what to do with me. What is a health volunteer? Luckily, following a two-year degree in public health, my personal direction was established ahead of time, and I was able to share these directions with my team.
For the past six months at site, I’ve been completing a community needs assessment (CNA) to study the community, collect data on demographics, beliefs, and health issues, and develop a list of recommendations both for community activities that can be implemented immediately and future research to be completed by my host organization or a future volunteer. While I won’t go into great detail about the specifics here (I’ll post the results once I’m able to get a few fresh eyes on it to correct it for grammar, inconsistencies, etc.), I can list the top three things I learned from completing a CNA in Mozambique:
- Projects and ideas can move at an unbearably slow pace if you don’t push the conversation each day with supervisors, staff, and the community
- While rumors and inconsistencies exist regarding health and prevention in the country, the majority of people in my community are able to identify the most severe health issues (malaria, HIV/AIDS, etc.) and the general symptoms
- There are countless questions regarding why patients abandon treatment, why people aren’t properly using mosquito nets, etc., and usually the group that has the answers to these questions is the one we often forget to ask: the community.
As Nyusi takes office and starts to look ahead at future projects and ways to improve the country, health volunteers hope and ask that he and his administration look to the community first for answers before looking elsewhere. During my conversations with the community regarding health, countless ideas were shared about rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, promoting and emphasizing education, and eliminating government corruption from the top down. The people want improvements. It’s clear.
The country is currently broken because of the flooding throughout the country. Thousands of citizens are displaced and in the process of rebuilding their lives. Millions of people are currently without power and without much transparency about the reasons and expected solutions. On the first day of a new presidency, the country looks to him for solutions. As Peace Corps volunteers, while we will also look to him for future solutions, we continue to direct our attention toward the community and its members where real action thrives.
Questions? Contact me!