Volunteering during times of drought

Volunteering during times of drought

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Joaquina and Relia have been neighbors in a little village close to Funhalouro in the Southeast of Mozambique for many years. The two friends spend hours to fetch water every day. Their village has no running water, no electricity and the nearest hospital is hours away. They live in a little round hut that they have built themselves with poles out of wood. At night, they sleep on the ground, with only thin blankets between them and the sandy floor. Life has always been hard in this part of the world, but things have deteriorated since the failure of last year rains. Many families in the village are receiving CARE’s food assistance to help them survive, funded by the UK Department for International Development and other international donors. “We have lived through many dry periods,” says Joaquina, who does not know her age, but estimates she is in her late 40s. “But a drought like this one I cannot remember. I have not seen a single drop of rain for months.”

For Joaquina, the drought means that her children go to bed with an empty stomach. It also means that her job as a CARE volunteer has become more difficult. Two years ago she became a so-called “masungukate”. She has learnt about hygiene, maternal health, nutrition, and child development in different CARE workshops. Ever since she has visited families in her village on a weekly basis to pass on her knowledge. Neither she nor any of the other women can read or write, but she uses a book with pictures to explain the different topics. “Volunteering is like a calling for me,” explains Joaquina. “It was rewarding to see how, step by step, life in our community has improved. I have helped many families set up a latrine for the first time, and many are now using mosquito nets to protect themselves and their children from malaria. In the past two years parents were increasingly sending their children to school. Seeing this change and knowing that people trust me is a true gift. Right now though, I am very worried that many of these achievements risk being unraveled in the current drought.”

At the end of last year, Mozambique was hit by its worst drought in 35 years and Joaquina took part in another CARE workshop to deal with the current emergency. “We learnt how to measure children’s mid-upper arm circumference with colored plastic strips to determine whether or not they are malnourished. Many families can only prepare one or two meals for their children each day and cases of malnourishment are increasing.” Even before the drought, over 40 percent of children under five in Mozambique were too short for their age and chronically malnourished.  According to UNICEF, around 100,000 children will suffer acute malnutrition over the next six months because of the current drought.

Joaquina’s friend Relia had a grandson, Frank, in critical condition. “The plastic strip was in the yellow area, very close to the red one,” explains Joaquina. "It is always sad to see when children do not have enough to eat. But witnessing how my friend Relia was suffering felt like someone stabbed me in the heart.” But she knew what she had to do and took little Frank to the health post. The two friends also collected moringa together, leaves from a horse radish plant, which are good nutrition for children. “I am very thankful for Joaquina´s help. She is such a good volunteer and has become a true friend. During times of drought we need friends. We cannot make it alone,” says Relia.

Relia has raised four children of her own and also takes care of her grandchild. Her daughter gave birth to him when she was only 14 years old. Relia’s youngest children Maria (11) and Sergjije (7) also live with her. Before the drought, Relia could harvest enough in her fields to feed her family. But the El Nino-induced drought has dried everything up. In order to survive she carries water buckets for other families. Each day, she receives around 7 cents this strenuous work. She has previously received food assistance from CARE, funded by the UK Department for International Development. However, there is currently a funding shortage of 143 million USD for food assistance in Mozambique, which means there is simply not enough money to assist families with monthly rations. “CARE’s assistance and Joaquina´s friendship have helped see me through this catastrophe so far, but I worry every day and am afraid of the future to come,” says Relia.  “We need more food, we are in a desperate situation. “ 

Joaquina (right) has been a CARE-volunteer for the past two years. “I love being a volunteer, it is like a calling."