Jorges, who lost his home in the 2000 floods, makes pots in his new garden
Inacio, Cedric’s right-hand man, shows where roads were swept away
Major Rob Holley supervises the unloading of tents at Maputo Airport in 2000
Families settle into The Salvation Army’s Circulo tent city in 2000. Jorges and Lidia, both now rehoused, were among the people who sheltered in the camp after their homes were washed away
Inacio prepares to feed his turkeys; right and above right: the new community hall in Khongolote, which will also be the Salvation Army worship hall
Major Cedric Hills (centre) is shown helping distribute tents in 2000
Major Cedric Hills is International Emergency Services Coordinator at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters
Mozambique: From Chaos to Community
by Major Cedric Hills
Last night’s episode of a popular TV soap opera featured the continuing story of Scott. Yesterday we saw Scott at school, trying to prove that his inability to concentrate on anything for a substantial length of time didn’t mean he had no value. There was a wonderfully funny moment when Scott excitedly announced to the head teacher that he had concentrated in class for ‘at least a minute and a half’!
Fortunately, most of us manage to focus on issues for rather longer than that. But the world of Emergency Services is plagued by its own kind of attention deficit syndrome. It’s not a problem for those of us actually involved in this area of work, but it does seem to strike those media representatives who decide when stories no longer have any news value.
In our work we talk of ‘CNN time’ – that brief moment in history when the world’s attention is focused on an area of difficulty. As I pen this article the stories of the flooding in the Dominican Republic no longer feature on our TV screens or in our newspapers, yet the relief effort to provide much-needed assistance to thousands of families left homeless by those devastating floods is only just beginning. How quickly we lose interest.
In the last issue of All the World Lieut-Colonel Dan Starrett reminded us that children in Mozambique have very similar aspirations to others living around the world. He spoke of their hope that The Salvation Army would be putting up a new corps building in their community. I’m delighted to report that their hopes are being fulfilled. I recently returned to Mozambique to inspect this new building.
For me, it was a journey of discovery because I witnessed a transition from ‘chaos to community’. Perhaps I should explain. Four years ago I received a phone call informing me that I was to assist with The Salvation Army’s response to the terrible flooding that had hit Mozambique. It was ‘CNN time’, in early 2000. The news had featured the appalling story of a woman who had given birth to her baby while taking refuge in a tree. That almost unbelievable incident resulted in a British donor offering £500,000 to fund a relief programme.
When I arrived I witnessed chaos. Many areas were still under water. Roads, whose sandy foundations had been washed away, had simply disappeared. The Salvation Army relief programme initially concentrated on providing basic shelter, food and water purification facilities.
It was not long before the media teams left, looking for the next drama. But The Salvation Army didn’t leave. A longer-term programme of recovery was planned. The land that many families owned had simply disappeared, so new land had to be identified if there was to be any hope of a future home.
In technical terms, we talk of ‘relief to development’, moving from providing immediate assistance to looking at long-term needs that will, we hope, stop a similar disaster having such devastating effects. In reality, we attempt to turn chaos into community.
Many Salvation Army relief personnel have come and gone during the past four years but Majors Rob and Judy Holley, the leaders of The Salvation Army in Mozambique, have stayed. They have been a calming and constant presence, demonstrating to the people of Mozambique that we in The Salvation Army would stand alongside them as they sought to rebuild their lives.
The story is now four years old. During that period more than 300 brick-built homes have been constructed. I met three families in the new community of Khongolote. Jorges has a large family to care for, with eight children. When the floods struck, his home in Zona Verde was washed away and he and his family found refuge in a Salvation Army tent. He now has a new, permanent home and has started a small business in his garden. He makes clay pots, about six per day. On a good day they sell for about US$10. He’s not rich, but is supporting his family. When I asked him how he felt about this new life he told me, ‘The community is good – and it’s growing.’
Lidia was looking after her small children when I stopped by her home. Her husband was at work. Her original home in Ndlavela had been washed away, along with all of her possessions. She pointed down the street at the neat row of brick houses and told me, ‘I have good friendships here – the same people I lived with before are once again my neighbours.’
I was particularly thrilled to meet up again with Inacio. He greeted me with a warm embrace and we looked back to our ‘CNN time’ when Inacio was my translator and right-hand man. Inacio and his family now live in one of the new homes and he is building up his small business farming turkeys.
As we laughed and joked together those four years since we last worked together seemed just an instant. Yet so much has happened in those days – and what a transformation.
Inacio took me through the village and proudly showed me the new Salvation Army corps building. The last coat of paint was being applied. This will not only be a worship building but a community centre. Activities will soon commence that will see this building buzzing with life. The substantial plot on which it stands has potential for agriculture and small livestock programmes.
It was good to be back. Where once there was chaos I witnessed a sense of community. I was reminded that problems are often not solved in an instant and it may be that our lack of concentration means we don’t always see the end result.
‘Chaos to community’ may not feature as headline news, but I think it’s something to shout about.