Mozambique: Fight for children's rights
Jaime Dambo is a “ psychosocial supervisor” in Beira, Mozambique, at the Terre des hommes’ centre for children. In this country, ravaged by wars and extreme poverty, bare survival is the one and only constant aim of most people, particularly in rural areas. Jaime explains here the challenge undertaken by Terre des hommes to try to unite a part of the population to give children their rightful place, and to help parents be able to offer this place – very dear in Mozambique – to their children.
Can you describe the situation of children in Mozambique?
Jaime Dambo: The situation of children has long been endangered. We have gone through two big wars: first we were fighting for freedom, for our independence. And then we had to endure a terrible civil conflict. Children and adults lived under catastrophic conditions. People were extremely poor and a tremendous number of them were illiterate. I remember my father and many others who worked hard from an early age – just to survive. Nobody got any help because of the political situation.
This period lasted until the government signed a peace agreement with the rebels, in 1992. And then international aid arrived, bringing plenty of food, clothing . . . Many organisations intervened to help children who had lived through the war and seen their mother or their father killed. But once the ‘emergency’ had passed, most of these organisations went away, leaving people with no future prospects – although we need projects for development in order to survive long-term. To this was added a serious epidemic of AIDS, due to the conflicts and population movement. Mainly the young were affected; and on the other hand, all the war orphans had been entrusted to their grandparents or relatives, all of them far too poor to take on such a responsibility.
Even with the country at peace, the children and youngsters continued to work from an early age and could often not attend school. And the problem is still there, now that they are all grown up – with their sole education, that of surviving. Nobody ever protected them, nobody bothered about them and their rights. As a result, in Mozambique today, children have no rights. You can see them everywhere living like adults. That’s what is good in our centre, to see them behaving like children, laughing and playing. But when they go back home, many of them have to take on responsibilities again. Our little girls, for example, become women again. It’s so hard to work in this context, but it is a challenge that Terre des hommes has decided to take up.
How do you manage to work under such conditions?
JD: Terre des hommes studied this context thoroughly before starting work in Mozambique. One of the major problems is what caused the wars, the population movement, sickness, the disintegrated communities, and people who have become more selfish. Tdh intervenes above all within the communities: we try to make them more united and responsible for their own futures, as well as that of their children.
And so we go into the villages and try to combine child protection with each type of culture: to show that to assure one’s own life and your child’s, there are far greater advantages if the child grows and develops correctly, rather than having to bear an adult’s life too early. The youngster must return to his rightful place in the eyes of the general public, but we may not impose this through our ‘knowledge’: through another culture. We must learn how to adapt to every culture. It’s a long-drawn-out job with many discussions about their expectations, their needs and their capacities to respond to the problems of the children – like the ones who spend their days working in the fields, or those who regularly run away from home.
Local organisations are involved as well, who should make sure that child protection goes smoothly. This is also a very hard and complex task, to find, motivate, understand and train local organisations. It’s a great challenge for Terre des hommes, and for me personally, to make these organisations trustworthy. I firmly believe that it is possible, but we must be careful. There are so many organisations with very different aspirations. We must make sure that their objectives correspond with ours, and will continue to do so. We spend a lot of time giving them training and following up their work.
Have you already seen these changes working in the communities?
JD: Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to change everybody. You must know how to develop a bit at a time. Perhaps, in a group of ten adults, 1 or 2 will understand and approve of what is said to them. But this or that person will take part in our project and will repeat to others what he or she has learnt and so it goes on.
Terre des hommes runs its project in several remote districts and involves entire communities. In the Beira centre where I am, the job goes via the children in the first place. That’s what I like about Terre des hommes – they brought to Mozambique a completely different approach: the psychosocial one. We help the children to express their anxieties, difficulties and expectations, through times for listening and talking to them, and with various activities like drawing, acting, and sport. We then meet their families and sit down together to help them find the means of bringing their children up under the best possible conditions, always getting the rest of the community united and involved, so that we can face up to this grinding poverty.