Our company is all about making a difference in the lives of the poor and orphaned in Mozambique. Making a difference is not just about giving money or jobs to others. It is about investing in their lives. A major reason why our efforts are making such a difference is because we live here. We went to Mozambique believing that we would do good by giving back 90% of our net proceeds and providing jobs. What we have learned is that we are also doing good by simply being there for the people when they are in need. Here is an example of how we are doing this.
I stopped in at the Matola-Rio children’s center the other day to check on the playground that was being built to entertain the 46 children who live there. I was having one of those days where everything took longer than you thought it would. One of those days where you looked at your watch and were dumbfounded by how much time had passed and how little you had accomplished. I had meant to make it out to the center in the early morning hours but to my dismay, I pulled in at 1:00 in the afternoon. I still had other people and items to check in on and my own grocery shopping to do as well, but I wasn't too worried as I had a few hours yet to get my list of “to do’s” taken care of.
As usual, I was greeted by a mass of children. I go there to fill their little emotional tanks up, but in reality, they fill mine! I feel like a rock star as I pull in to the sound of them chanting my name and swarming my car. I open my door and am literally pulled from my car. Then I am hugged and hugged and hugged and hugged… Once I was able to come up for air, I was approached by Corrie, the director. She asked me with an apprehensive look on her face if I had any plans that afternoon. I already find it difficult to tell people “No” when they ask for a favor. Telling a woman like this who is a living saint caring for 46 children and a church and a preschool and countless community members that you are too busy to help is impossible. So I responded, “No. Nothing at all. What do you need?”
The mother of two center children, 17 year old Beatiz and 9 year old Americo, needed help moving to a new house. She lived out in Jonasse, a village way, way out. Her landlord had kicked her out of her home and she had no where to go. Corrie was going to help her by paying her rent for a room in a house located just behind the center. She needed someone to take her to collect her things and bring them to this house.
I will be honest and real enough to openly admit that inside I groaned to myself (as I smiled on the outside). I have lived in Mozambique long enough to know that this would not be a small task. Nothing in Mozambique ever is. What takes 15 minutes to accomplish in America takes two hours in Mozambique. A simple moving job like this in America would take one hour to pop over, load in the possessions, and drive them back again. Here in Mozambique, it would take 3 hours, if I was lucky. In my head, I quickly made a check of what I had yet to accomplish and crossed every item but one off the list. If all I accomplished today would be going to the grocery store to do my food shop, then the day would not be a total waste.
The mother, Caroline, is a sweet woman whose son, Americo, is one of my favorites at the center. He is a good boy. A truly good boy. He likes to give long hugs. The other kids like to squeeze you hard and see you squirm, and sometimes literally writhe in pain. Americo's hugs are different. He gently envelopes you with his arms and holds on. I let him hold on as long as he needs to, always making sure that I do not release my hold on him until he releases his hold on me. He is the kind of boy you want to wrap up and take home with you. Moving Caroline would help my little Americo by bringing her closer in proximity to her. I looked at Corrie and said, “No problem. Is she all packed and ready to go?” This in itself is an invalid question in Mozambique. No one is ever “ready to go” anywhere. But of course Corrie said she was, knowing full well that she probably wasn’t. But this is how it works here!
As we headed to my car, Karen, the woman directing the work on the playground, came over and offered the use of her pick-up truck. She offered to drive as well. A pick-up can hold much more than we would ever fit into my car, so we took her up on her generous offer and piled in. We took along Paulo, a worker at the center, so we could have some man-muscle. I also discovered that Caroline has another child…a little boy named Luciano, about 5 years old. He leaped into the back seat of the truck, tucking himself in between his mother and Paulo. We headed off down the dirt road toward Jonasse.
Luciano soon became the bright spot in my day. It was a hot, sunny, end of summer day. The inside of the truck was quite hot and the AC was not working all that well. From time to time, I would glance back to Luciano in the middle of the back seat. He was sitting up straight and tall with a perma-grin etched on his face from one ear to the other. It was clear that he had had very few rides in a car before. He was delighted to be enjoying this privilege today. In minutes, we were all dripping with sweat from the heat in the car and feeling very thirsty. Dry dust from the road that was being churned up filled our noses making it uncomfortable to even breathe. Karen, being the kind-hearted, giving person she is, offered to stop at a little baraka (our bush version of a convenience store) and buy us some cool drinks before we all withered up. We stopped at the first one along our way and got waters and Cokes. Luciano, being a typical Mozambican boy, chose orange Fanta- they always go for Fanta. His day now was off the charts…to be riding along in a truck and drinking a Fanta was the mountain-top experience of his little life.
It took us about 30 minutes to get to Caroline’s house. As I said, it was way, way out. She had no water and no electricity. It was a simple cement block box. Her front door was a piece of wood that she put over the opening at night. There was no glass in the only window. Instead it was covered by a piece of material called a capulana. The women wear capulanas as a skirt and use them for a million other things as well. We began hauling out her possessions. Each item we carried out was fit for the garbage dump. Each item was old and used beyond its lifetime, dirty, smelly, tattered, and broken. I did my best to be gracious and hold back my disdain at having to touch and carry these items out. I was saddened to know that this was all she had. We carried out two mattresses that reeked and were ripped, the coconut hair that filled them spilling out as we carried them. There was a large plastic barrel used to collect rain water. Blankets and the few clothes they owned were tied up in capulanas because they do not own any suitcases. Farming tools such as a machete and hoe were loaded in. A black skillet that was completely encrusted in an inch of built up, baked on soot was brought out. Item after item was loaded into the back of Karen’s truck.
Half way through this process, I noticed that Luciano had not gotten out of the truck yet. He was so excited to be in the truck that he didn’t want to leave it. The doors were shut and the windows were up to keep the dust and dirt out. It was dangerously hot in there. Yet he sat in the back seat, his perma-grin never leaving his face, holding his Fanta, with sweat rolling down the sides of his dear face, refusing to get out. All of our attempts to get him out of the truck were futile until as we were finishing up, his mother called to him to go into the house and get his toys. This request was immediately obeyed. The door was flung open and he ran down the dirt path and into the house. I was standing off to the side when he emerged again. The site of him running back down that dirt path will forever be etched into my memory. It was a priceless moment that is hard to put into words. It was a moment that humbled me and made me think about what is and is not important in my life as I watched him cradle his belongings with such joy and pride. He ran down the path wearing a shiny gold New Year's Eve top hat and carrying two plastic cars with no wheels, a plastic airplane that was in two pieces, a rubber lizard, and a metal bicycle tire rim. I joined him and helped him load his treasures into the back of the truck. The last of our cargo was loaded and it was time to head out.
Caroline and Luciano did not even take a last glance back at their home. Their eyes were fixed on the road ahead and the new home they would now occupy. During the entire ride back, Luciano did not break his smile for even a second. He did keep glancing periodically over his shoulder to make sure his toys were still where we had placed them in back. Another bumpy and swelteringly hot 30 minute drive brought us back to the center. We drove around the back to where they would now be living. There was a line of newly constructed, small cement rooms with metal doors and windows. Each room was no larger than the small bedroom our youngest son William once occupied in America. One of these rooms would be their entire living space. Karen went back to her playground responsibilities and Paulo went back to his duties, so I enlisted the help of one of the teenage boys, Hypolito, from the center to help us unload. We were also joined by 4 of the little boys from the center who wanted to help as well. One by one, each possession was unloaded off the truck and into their new room. The last thing we were able to reach was Luciano’s toys. He put his glitzy top hat back on his head and went inside to place the toys in his new home. The little center boys who were helping out were eyeing them up with great interest. As broken as these toys were, they were more than what they had. Luciano was kind enough to let them look at each toy and play a little. Again and again, I am taken aback by the selflessness of the Mozambican children. They do not have a mine-versus-yours attitude. They have nothing by our standards. Yet they do not ever hesitate to share their “nothing” with others.
Three hours had now passed. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Before driving off, I took a minute to look at myself. I was drenched in sweat and covered with dirt. My feet were black. My day had been totally interrupted, but I was no longer feeling frustrated about it. I had put my needs aside to add another Mozambican adventure to my life and was so glad I had taken the time to do this. I pulled away and crossed the last thing off my list for the day. The grocery store would have to wait.