Suzu is five years old. Her face is very-very sad and looks like the one of an old woman. She does not have a father and her mom goes to work very early, she works at a market. The girl stays with her aunt to look after her little baby. That is why Suzu does not go to the pre-school and, probably, will not go to school either. I met her in a poor district not far from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Most of people here live in small concrete houses without floors and beds, and the poorest have dwellings made of straw. This poverty is striking but does not seem to be hopeless: we see the country developing gradually and the joy appears in places of real pain. One of such places of joy is the food center where Suzu comes for lunch at times. This center has been opened by the Community of Sant’Egidio. Every day 600 to 650 children are fed there, some of them are aged only 2 or 3, some come there after school but for all of them this meal is the only filling one during THE DAY. As members of the Community we have been working in this center for about two weeks now and getting to know children, their life and the life of the city… The manner to eat of these children is striking: some of two-year-olds are not that good at holding their spoons but they eat very-very quickly without leaving anything in their plates. If they do not finish a couple of spoons of rice, a friend sitting nearby will happily do it. These children have serious adult faces and they live adult lives as well: being so young they look after those who are even younger and do housework… Just like Suzu who does not have a real childhood.
The center we are working in is like an oasis in a large desert. Here children are treated with attention and love, they teach them to wash their hands (who else would do it?), drink filtered water (they do not have it at home) and use the toilet bowl (a real luxury!). The community has organized the school for children under six years old: there are two classes of 25 children in each. There kids draw, learn counting and reading. Many of them will not have copybooks when they go to school because their parents will not be able to buy them. At school they will be sitting on the floor since there are no desks and chairs here. There will be 60 to 80 children in each class and sometimes there will not be enough premises. Then they will sit under a mango tree and listen to their teacher. The road leading to our center is not covered with asphalt just like most of local roads. It is covered with litter which is everywhere. Children spend their childhood outside, in the dust and litter, alone, constantly in danger. It is no wonder that they do not want to leave the center.
The thing our kids like doing the most is holding somebody’s hand and hugging. One of their greatest pleasures is when someone is stroking their head. The lack of love, care and attention they need so much is just striking. To get my attention when I am taking children to toilets my little friend Kelvin runs ahead, lies down on the ground, closes his eyes and tries to hold his breath.
Today we have made a large poster with our children. Everyone has contributed: some have colored the trees; others have colored oranges growing on them. There is our school on it, above the school there is a large sun and a dove of peace. In the school windows and in front of the school there are our children: their photo portraits and names. They have been excited with the poster! They do not have photo albums at home and even not everybody has a mirror and they touch their faces on the photos as something unusual. However, they especially like what strikes me the most in my work in Africa: everyone does something small, but owing to joint efforts we got a large and very nice picture...
The Day’s FACT FILE
Olha MAKAR is a student of the second year of the Master’s Program “Mohylianska Journalism School” at NaUKMA. She is the active participant of the International NGO Community of Sant’Egidio founded in Rome in 1968. Today the organization working in over 70 countries is aiming at overcoming the social injustice, cultural and religious stratification of society. In Ukraine the principles of the Community are shared by the movement called Friends of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Its volunteers take care of aged people, help homeless and those who have to panhandle in the streets of the Ukrainian cities.
This summer, as a volunteer of the Community, Olha Makar went to Mozambique to work in the children food center. She shared her impressions about the country and processes in it with THE DAY.