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Interview: Muassite Miguel, mission co-ordinator in Mozambique

23 August 2019

‘We lost churches in the cyclone, but people do not stop worshipping’

My work is based around community education. I manage a project called Abundant Life, funded by Anglican Overseas Aid, an Australian NGO. We work with communities on HIV, malaria, nutrition, sanitation, community mobilisation, and advocacy. I also work to strengthen relationships with local partners and the government.

I work with volunteer equipas de vida (life teams) based in their own communities. There are a hundred of these groups in the diocese of Nampula. Each has 20 members, and each member has ten households where they teach the important health messages that they receive from us. I have been doing this since 2009.

The first thing I did after the cyclone was to spend five days in the communities with five colleagues, collecting data, speaking to households, and visiting farms, schools, and churches. [Cyclone Idai in March this year caused at least 1300 deaths and destroyed houses and crops across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.] We interviewed people who had lost their homes and were living with family members to see where the greatest needs were.

One side of my house was lost and it was full of water, but we had to stay inside with our children, as the weather outside was so bad. In total, my wider family lost three houses. My brother is still living in a government-donated tent, and we and another family are staying with friends and in the undamaged part of the house.

I was hurt, but I felt passionate about encouraging communities who were worse off so I left my family and went to tell our communities that they were not alone, and that the Church wanted to help them.

I saw destroyed houses, people’s belongings floating in the water in the streets, and so many people moving from their damaged houses towards better accommodation. There was also a lot of erosion in the roads so it wasn’t possible to use them.

Many farms were flooded and destroyed, and it was the time of harvest. There is no food, especially for rural communities, so people are really suffering from hunger, and now there is a lot of conflict. There are damaged schools, leaving students studying under trees. This and the hunger mean that many children are not going to school.

We were able to use funds received from churches in England through ALMA and MANNA to buy food for 167 families — rice, flour, oil, and beans — as well as chlorine and soap. We also did some teaching on sanitation because diarrhoeal diseases increase rapidly after floods, and encouraged people to rebuild simple latrines. We also reminded them about the symptoms of serious illness and when to go to the hospital.

We were sad, of course, about what happened, but there’s no point staying angry. The last event of this size was ten or 15 years ago, but we experience droughts and floods every year, especially in the centre and south of the country. In the midst of this disaster, we asked God to give us strength and courage to rebuild and to move forward.

We have lost churches, but people do not stop worshipping, and they are already planning how to rebuild their churches in the future. The cyclone was an opportunity for the Church, because it has been in these communities for many years. In many cases it is the only hope for people: the government are not always reaching the more remote communities with supplies and support.

We took supplies to the affected communities, and continue to do so while people cannot grow their own food. We’re relying on donations, and we buy what we can, as and when we have the funds. We also have plans to work with the communities to rebuild. We are teaching about ways to increase the resilience of the communities during future weather events, such as firing mud bricks before building, and planting trees to offer some protection.

Hunger and conflict will continue until this time next year. I am scared there will be serious fighting on top of the ongoing conflicts in that part of the country. We cannot replant any crops until November and December. Until then people will be relying on food donations, because even their stocks were destroyed.

I was born in Pemba, one of four children. My dad was transferred to a district called Metuge outside the city when I was six. I had a happy life with friends at school and church. When I was 13 I chose to serve God in a convent in Maputo. My father died and we became very poor.

My first experience of God was at my baptism, when I was eight years old. I was confirmed when I was 12. I felt chosen to serve God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. I felt like I could fly. I participated a lot in the life of the Church. I didn’t have any money to offer, but I often volunteered to clean the church, collect flowers, carry sand — whatever was helpful.

I feel that since God saved me, I now want to work to save others, giving teaching which saves lives.

When I was 15, I had to leave school and marry, to help my family with money, but I really wanted to learn, so after some years I manged to complete school up to the penultimate year. At that point I was offered the opportunity to do an internship with the Anglican Church, and, fortunately, I was chosen to continue in a paid role. That was in 2009, and now I am managing the mission work for the diocese of Nampula and I still live in Pemba with my three sons.

After my father died, many of my siblings left the Church; but I have been praying for them. This year God answered my prayers, a door of opportunity opened for them, and they are going to church. I am so happy about this.

There was a priest called Fr Fenias who encouraged me when life was difficult, and gave me the opportunity to do the internship, where the director of the programme, Rebecca, really came alongside me and has supported me for the last ten years in my personal and professional life.

The first time that I had to speak in public I needed a lot of courage, but the internship had built up that courage and enabled me to succeed, and take on more and more responsibility.

I want girls to succeed. It makes me angry when parents force girls to marry when they are still children. They are cutting their psychological growth and increasing their poverty. Girls should have the same opportunities as boys to study and to work. I want to see girls becoming teachers, doctors, leading debates in their communities. This is very rare in my culture. I don’t want anyone to have the experience I had as a young girl. Even in my role now, I do not get the same respect as a man.

I’m happiest when I see good results from my work. For example, in Namilase, an extremely rural community, they saved money and provided uniforms for children to go to school, and there are many girls attending that school. I can really see God at work there. Another community built their own road, and this inspired me so much. Now government vehicles can reach their village. In another community everyone is getting tested for HIV. In many places people are ashamed of their status, but I am overjoyed when communities speak easily about HIV as a result of our teaching.

I love the sound of singing in the church. It comforts me a lot.

I glimpse hope when parents send their daughters to school — hope that the future will be different for girls in Mozambique than it was for me. The work of our life teams also gives me hope that communities are going to have healthier lives.

I pray the Lord’s prayer a lot. It summarises everything: it thanks God for our lives, asks forgiveness, asks God for our daily bread.

If I found myself locked in a church with someone, I would choose a young woman, and we would pray together for God to stop the problems we have in Mozambique around gender inequality.

Muassite Miguel was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. MANNA (outside London) and ALMA (in London) help to link churches with the dioceses in Mozambique, and they are managing donations for the cyclone response. The MANNA cyclone appeal, which is still open, is https://manna-anglican.org; the ALMA appeal is https://www.give.net/ALMApentecostappeal.

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