Why did we travel across the globe to spend a week slinging cinderblocks in the middle of Mozambique? Here's a hint: it wasn't really about building houses.
Sure, Habitat for Humanity's mission is to provide affordable houses with those who lack adequate shelter. (Notice it says "with" and not "for.") But, let's face it, there are much more efficient ways to build a house than schlepping in a bunch of foreigners with little-to-no construction experience.
We were there to participate in the transformative experience of giving these two women and their families a second chance. And while it takes money to do that -- undying thanks to the many folks who sponsored us and made this journey possible -- it's so much more powerful to be there in person.
And, of course, coming back and talking about it nonstop. :)
This is not the same as writing a check to some faraway organization, not by a long shot.
We were greeted by Nosta and Felixmina and their neighbors on Day 1 of the build, where they immediately started singing and dancing. Not knowing any better, and in fact not entirely sure who exactly it was that we were there to help, the team gamely joined in. We'd eventually get the hang of this, as singing & dancing (and not quite being sure what the heck was going on) would be recurring themes for the week.
With the help of Mama Ida's translations, the families and masons gave brief speeches thanking us for "leaving your beautiful homes and families" and coming out to the middle of nowhere to help. Truly lump-in-your-throat sentiments, and we hadn't even been there an hour! Another theme for the week: surprisingly intense emotions.
After working alongside Nosta and Felixmina and the ladies of Chipenhe village -- the village is composed of almost only women, as the men have mostly perished from civil war or AIDS or malaria, or have gone to work in the mines of South Africa -- we got to celebrate alongside them at the dedication ceremonies.
It was here, for the first time all week, that we heard some emotion come from these stoic, tough women. Felixmina's concern every time she saw rain clouds, because without a roof her son Alvaro's school books would get wet. Nosta's yearning to be reunited with her fifth child, who ran away to live with his aunt because the housing conditions were so bad. And through it all, incredible gratitude at the chance to start over, at the opportunity that comes from having a safe secure place to live, at the responsibility of homeownership.
It costs about $3K to build a house in rural Mozambique. But when fourteen strangers join a community to generate true empowerment, it's priceless.
It's taken a while to capture the words and pictures from this trip, much longer than I expected. It's both a blessing and a curse that I don't operate under any external deadlines on this blog. Your indulgence, dear reader, is appreciated. More pictures have recently been posted: the inspiring and truly fabulous ladies of Chipenhe village, the children, and some scenes from village life. Or check out all Xai-Xai pics in one big batch.
Believe it or not, there are still a few more African tales to tell, so stay tuned for the last few dispatches from our adventure. Happy New Year!