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Remembering the little girls of Morrumbala

Recently, we were making plans to visit parts of Mozambique for counsel with our church leaders following the devastating impact of Tropical Cyclone Idai in the area.

However, the prospects of Cyclone Kenneth compelled our postponement of the visit to a later time. That did not stop me from thinking about my last visit to Mozambique some four years ago.

And that is exactly my point, sometimes mission assignments get one thinking about at least one haunting observation long after the trip is finished.

By any means flying into a country, scanning through books at airports and later getting a shuttle into a hotel, is the most convenient of travels. It has its classy feel, allays safety concerns and assures of basic conveniences. 

Still, these are nothing compared to the rich cultural experience that comes with road travel and lodging with the local people.  Fortunately, budget constraints often compels my team and I to frequent road travel, sometimes staying in people’s homes and occasionally eating in places that get us concerned about possible stomach bugs.

In 2015 when our old church van broke down in Morrumbala near Gorongosa in the Zambezi area of Mozambique, we had  an unforeseen extra week of mission encounter with the local community.

Our Portuguese-speaking bush mechanic had rightly diagnosed the problem as a buggered rolamento (centre bearing). A second hand one could only be secured in Quelimane some two-day journey by available public transport.

The church van had been a reliable old horse in Botswana’s flat terrain but could not withstand the undulating mountainous route to Northern Mozambique.

The extended stay compelled us to readjust our budget, moving to cheaper lodging and buying food to be cooked at the home of a local pastor.  We had to ask a fellow Motswana missionary to stay behind whenever we went shopping for fish and goat meat because we doubted that he would eat if he knew that we had to whisk prowling flies at the main Morrumbala market place.

The generosity of the hosts, their simplicity and kindness was mind blowing. Some brought maize and pounded it for our next meal while an occasional member would bring various local fruits and sugar cane.

They mocked our lack of skill in pealing the sugar cane as they taught us the easier way. Men would come to accompany us at the home of the pastor, himself staying in mud houses and not a man of much possessions. We also learnt a few words in the local Sena language.

However, when I think of Morrumbala what haunts me is not the thought of that cold night when the vehicle broke down again near the Gorongosa forest at a time when the suspected ‘rebels’ or thugs were hijacking and burning foreign vehicles.

Neither is my memory awakened by

the limited resources we had and the daily concerns we had on our diet and what could happen if one of us fell ill in a remote area of a foreign African country.

The painful lingering thought of Morrumbala is recollection that girl child labour seemed to be a widespread normalcy. Either in the market place or in home visits, you would see preteen girls who were either taking care of toddlers or working general home chores as maids.

In one conversation the girl was about 11 years. She had no schooling and was a relative of her hosts but from a more remote area with an even poorer background.

The conversation got more uncomfortable for her master when we asked why the girl couldn’t do home chores after school as the school was literally next door.

The girl’s host-master spoke with pride and considered it a generous gesture to rescue a relative from abject poverty. Even though she maintained a friendly poise, the attitude in the short answers suggested that she considered our questions an intrusion of her life. 

It is the tour to the market place that brought the child labour extent to greater limelight. We observed many teenage girls some with children on their backs and others seated as they breastfed.

It was clear that the culture of teenage pregnancies and preteen maid system is likely a common thing. Denied of education, soon the girls will escape domestic slavery into the hands of a lover. In that way the girls will be compelled into a cycle of dependence on men especially now that some were nursing mothers.

The prospects of going back to Mozambique in the aftermath of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth reminded me that I had not fully offloaded the plight of children in Morrumbala. 

It can’t be preaching as usual when the destiny of children is at stake. To this end, this week, rather belatedly, I sent a letter to the Mozambican Embassy in Gaborone with copies to UNICEF and SADC asking about the children of Morrumbala.

Online research shows the problem is widespread in Mozambique with government hosting over 176 shelters around the country to help child labour rehabilitation in 2017. Is that enough and what can be done to turn the tide? I know I could get sincere answers or coated diplomatic responses.

However, my mail is also reaching the local media and charities in Mozambique. If not for the memory of that ten year old who haunts me, then, at least in her honour - let the others have a bright future.

*Segadika is a regular contributor to Mmegi









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