MOZAMBIQUE: A home from home is saving children

MAPUTO - Driven by the utter desperation of poverty, Sergio Macuculi's mother took him to Centro de Boa Esperança, the Good Hope Centre, run by the Mozambique Red Cross (CVM) on the outskirts of the capital, Maputo, when he was six years old. Thirteen years later, he is happy that she did.

"When I first came here the conditions in my life were difficult because my father was not working and there was never enough food to eat for me and my other brothers," Macuculi told IRIN.

His parents were unable to come up with school fees and food for four boys, so his mother tried Boa Esperança, which had been caring for children since 1990.

"The centre has changed my life; it has taught me what is good and bad – this place has given me good hopes for the future," said Macuculi, now a tall healthy-looking young man with a broad smile on his face.

Around 100 children between the ages of seven and 19 from the surrounding communities are given food, school materials and uniforms, and access to hygiene and sanitation; if a member of the CVM staff accompanies them to the local hospital, they can also receive free medical services.

Only children in severe crisis or with absolutely no place to go are allowed to stay overnight; ultimately, the goal is to reintegrate children back into a family structure, whether their own or foster care.

During the day children attend schools in their communities and at the centre are taught skills and crafts such as carpentry, sewing and basket weaving.

Given half a chance

"Since I came here I started going to primary school … and I have also learnt how to sing and dance, carpentry, arts and handcrafts. Right now I am in grade 10 at Escola Secondaria … and I expect to go ahead with a course at some local technical college." Macuculi would like to become a mechanical engineer, he said.

Realising this dream is entirely possible. "Last year we had four children who passed through the Boa Esperança right from its early stages until they graduated as teachers at technical colleges," said Orlando Carupiea, CVM’s information officer.

"We also had two other former children who graduated with college diplomas in water and sanitation, and agriculture. This programme is helping our children to learn."

Carupiea said the target of CVM’s longstanding partnership with Boa Esperança was to continue improving the capacity of the centre to empower disadvantaged children with skills for the future.

From a time of war

Boa Esperança initially opened its doors to orphans flooding into the capital during Mozambique’s bitter 16-year civil war, said Maria Jose, director of the centre.

The war claimed the lives of more than a million Mozambicans and displaced an equal number before the peace accord in 1992; most of the displaced children in Maputo had fled the fighting in rural areas and become separated from their parents.

"When we started in 1990 we were responding to the emergency situation and had many street children without homes or families at that time. We started with a programme called ‘Playing and Healing’ because we wanted to reverse the traumatic effects of the war," Jose said.

To a time of peace, poverty and HIV

Yet peace did not bring an end to the needs of those abandoned to the streets, Jose noted, and now Maputo’s orphans and vulnerable children are the result urban poverty and an HIV/AIDS pandemic that erodes family structures.

The increasing number of orphans due to HIV/AIDS is also one of our major areas of concern: how we can help them?According to UNAIDS, HIV prevalence among adults (15-49 years) has steadily increased from 8.2 percent in 1998 to 16.2 percent in 2004, and is generally believed to be higher in urban areas like Maputo. More than 380,000 of the estimated 1.6 million orphans in Mozambique are thought to have lost parents to AIDS-related illnesses.

"By 1997 our focus turned to orphans and helping children in poor families and communities, not necessarily living in the streets, but struggling with problems of inadequate food, proper clothes and school uniforms, abuse and other social disadvantages that inhibit the growth of children," Jose said.

"The increasing number of orphans due to HIV/AIDS is also one of our major areas of concern: how we can help them?" The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that another 650,000 children will lose their parents to HIV/AIDS in the next two years.

Keeping hope alive

Jose estimated that over 2,000 children have passed through the centre since its inception, but food is becoming increasingly difficult to provide and she is worried that children might stop coming.

Map of Mozambique "At the moment [our biggest challenge] is getting enough food for our children. This year opened on a difficult note because we are struggling to provide breakfast in the morning and a solid lunch of rice and vegetables or fish stew in the afternoon. In fact, we are only getting soup from a local hotel three times a week and it is not enough," she said.

"This is affecting our capacity to provide education and social skills to poor children in the community, because they stop coming to the centre because there is no food for them."

Carupiea said help might be at hand: "The permanent premises of the centre have been closed since November last year [2008] and have been undergoing rehabilitation, with funding assistance from the Iceland Red Cross Society. Once it is open we expect that more funds will become available to improve the difficult food situation that the centre is facing at the moment."

IRIN

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