The path from beneficiary to Red Cross champion in Mozambique

Published: 1 September 2015 11:13 CET

By Joanne Baldwin, IFRC

25-year-old Abel Carlos Augusto was eating dinner as the flood waters started to come into his house in 1 de Maio village on 13 January, 2015. He fled to higher ground with his wife and two children (aged one and four), but his house and all his possessions were washed away. Yet, Abel counts himself luckier than many of the 500 people in his village, where three children died in the flood waters. His family survived and he has found new inspiration for the future as a Red Cross volunteer.

“Everyone helped each other after the flood,” says Abel, “and the next day the Chief moved everyone to higher ground and set up tents there.” The Red Cross Society of Mozambique arrived a few days later and immediately began distribution of jerry cans, kitchen sets, blankets, tarpaulins and shelter kits. The Red Cross also asked the community to identify community members who could read, write, and speak Portuguese, to become Red Cross volunteers. 

Abel was among three volunteers identified from his village. Initially, the Red Cross trained Abel in health promotion and cholera prevention so that he could assist in controlling the outbreak that occurred after the floods. As the community recovered, the volunteer role expanded as community members looked to the Red Cross to assist them in settling neighbourhood disputes. 

“We work together like ants!”

Later, Abel joined a Red Cross Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness training in Quilemane.  He and his peers learned the difference between safe and unsafe shelters, how to identify the safest ground for building, and how to construct stronger houses with stronger roofing.

Abel was nominated to lead the volunteers working to build new houses in his village with materials supplied by the Red Cross. He is very proud of his team. “We work together like ants!” he says. “If someone falls behind the team will wait for them and help them, otherwise the team becomes weak.” 

Abel works eight hours a day, managing the 15 volunteers to construct the houses, and mixing all the cement himself. By mid-October, it is expected the team will have built 120 houses, providing homes for the entire village. Very soon, Abel will build his own house.

With the help of other Mozambique Red Cross volunteers, Abel will lay the foundation, construct four concrete pillars, and erect a corrugated iron roof. He will have to source materials to complete the walls by himself, whether it is bricks, more iron, or mud and sticks. Involving community members in the construction of their own homes helps ensure that the houses are culturally appropriate and suitable for the people who will live inside them. It also helps foster partnerships between local authorities and the community.

Until he has saved enough money to buy bricks, Abel plans to finish the construction of his house with mud and sticks. He is saving his volunteer allowance of 150 Mozambican meticals (4 US dollars) per day to pay for the bricks. He also has other plans for his savings. Abel hopes to use the money to learn to drive and purchase his driver’s licence. Abel’s entire family supports his ambitions. His wife sells cookies and candies to the local community to generate extra income. 

“I will continue as a volunteer for now,” says Abel. “But my dream is to become a driver for the Mozambique Red Cross in the future.”