Magazine article Connexions

Mothers Start School

Magazine article Connexions

Mothers Start School

Article excerpt

Mozambique

(From "Center gets, keeps kids off the streets," by Ruth Ansah Ayisi, in Depthnews Women's Feature, The Philippines, March 1994.)

Filomena and her friends used to scramble into the metal garbage cans along the bustling streets of Maputo, Mozambique's capital, rummaging through a mixture of decaying vegetables and dirty papers. Scrawny dogs nosed in the rubbish that had spilled over onto the pavement. The only things growing fat around the heaps were the rats.

"I looked for lettuce leaves, tomatoes, bread anything to eat," says 13-year-old Filomena in Shangara, the language widely spoken in the country's southern region. "My mother knew I did it, but there was never enough food in the house for us, so she said nothing."

Filomena lives with her mother and six brothers and sisters in a makeshift shack along a dirt road in Mavalane, a crowded suburb west of Maputo. "I don't know my father," says Filomena, a slightly built girl who looks younger than her years. Her mother, with neither a formal job nor a plot of land, struggles daily to support herself and the children.

But now Filomena has a nutritious meal every day. The food is provided by a group of women known as the Maes de Mavalane (the Mothers of Mavalane), established in 1991. The Mothers help the increasing number of children in their community who live off the streets by offering them schooling and training in livelihood skills. The children eat at the center and are encouraged to return home at night. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has provided technical assistance and training and has supported educational and recreational activities, contributing US$40,000 through 1993.

It is a community initiative, but only women are involved, explains Inez Marique. "lt's us, the mothers, who feel it the most when we see our neighbors' children take to the streets. We have the experience as mothers to try to solve this problem ."

Currently, the center's regular visitors are 37 children, of whom only three are girls. Street life is more viable for boys than for girls, for whom it often means prostitution. In 1992, six girls as young as 12 who had worked as prostitutes participated in the center's activities, visiting the center every day for a year and a half before going back to their families.

The growing number of street children--now estimated at 3,500, with 1,300 in Maputo--is just one symptom of a country reeling from the devastation caused mostly by the 15-year war between the government and the Mozambique National Resistance or RENAMO.

The conflict, which claimed one million lives, also tore 500,000 children away from their families, like 11-year-old Fernando, the only child at the center living with one of the Mothers. …

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