It’s an unusually cool day in central Mozambique, and the neutral-colored sky is threatening to rain. 54-year-old Tencia sits next to the small crackling fire she’s built underneath the overhang on the side of her home.
Atop the fire sits a charred metal pot, and it’s quiet enough that all of us can hear the lid rattle as steam fights to escape from inside. The sweet, tangy smell of banana bread has just started to permeate the air.
My stomach groans.
I check my watch again. It’s been exactly 52 minutes since the bread-making process began, but I have no idea how long it will take for the bread to finish. Only Tencia knows.
Our attention shifts to three chickens circling a mixing bowl on the ground in front of the house, attempting to steal away the scraps of banana peel. Jeremias, Tencia’s oldest son, gets up to shoo the chickens away, but she smiles and motions to leave them be.
As the chickens run off with their prizes, Tencia looks out proudly toward the field beyond her house. Perhaps tired from the sunrise church service, she contentedly closes her eyes for a few minutes.
Eight years ago, just before giving birth to her youngest son, Elias, Tencia lost her husband. The cause of his death? Unknown. Headache, illness and high fever. It could’ve been malaria, typhoid, yellow fever... it’s hard to say.
With her two oldest daughters already married and gone, Tencia was left to provide for three boys on her own.
Back then, making bread was a means of survival. She’d learned the art of baking from her grandmother in 1996, when Jeremias was born (that’s where she got the recipe for which she’s famous today — the perfect combination of maize flour, bananas, salt, soda and water).
But the lack of clean water made it a slow process. Navigating the thick grass and banana trees to get down to the river took hours of time, and climbing back up the hill with forty pounds of water in tow took energy. For Tencia, it meant one entire day would have to be devoted to baking and then another day would be devoted to selling her bread.
But it was still lucrative.
Over the course of a year, Tencia could profit about $89 selling her sweet loaves. Far beyond the $30 the family was earning selling vegetables.
Not having a husband presented challenges, but as the boys grew older, they began to help their mom more and more. They cultivated maize, millet and vegetables in the field and sold bread near the school.
Together, the family of four was able to take care of themselves. Life was hard, but they were getting by.
Then, in 2010, life got a whole lot easier.
With the help of WorldVision, our local partner organization in Mozambique, Tencia’s village received a brand new drilled well that brought clean water right into the center of their community.
Suddenly, families weren’t limited to a single Jerry Can. Clean water was easier to collect and close enough that women could go as often as they wanted.
“When we were fetching water from the river, it took so much time. There was no time for other activities. Now we can get water 1, 2, 3, 4 times from the borehole because it’s so close!”
Tencia knew that the borehole would improve the health of her family and that collecting water would now be easier and safer. But better than that… she knew that this borehole meant business.
Every bit of her bread-making process requires water: The dough mixture. Washing hands, utensils, plates and bowls. Even cooking the bread itself.
“Without water it’s impossible to bake,” she told me.
Now everything was possible. And for the first time, Tencia could bake as much bread as she wanted.
As the process sped up, so did Tencia’s production. She began baking and selling 40–50 loaves in a single day, doubling her profit from $89/year to more than $178!
Today, Tencia isn’t just providing for her family; she’s running a business. Instead of living day to day, she’s thinking about the future; it’s not about survival anymore — it’s about growth and opportunity.
“I want to increase my productivity. To make more bread, I need money. And that’s why I’m working hard now.”
Tencia explained how a bigger business would allow her to buy a larger field and even improve her home. She became animated as she talked about the goals she has set for herself: save money, hire an employee, increase production, sell to a larger audience.
“My dream? I want to have a huge field and a big house,” she shared proudly.
81 minutes into the bread-making process, our loaves are finally ready.
Tencia brings the pot off the fire and moves to the table, where she carefully removes and unwraps the loaves one at a time — dipping her fingertips into cool water to keep them from burning. She collects the bread loaves, which appear slightly wet and have taken on little imprints from the banana leaves, and announces that it’s time to eat.
I watch as all three boys eagerly devour their bread, and then I bite into mine. It’s less banana-bready than I had expected. Maybe the maize flour skews the taste? I don’t know. But they’re perfect: dense and chewy, with sweetness balanced by delightful little chunks of salt that crunch as I chew. It was worth the wait.
Jeremias speaks up as he reaches for another piece, “There are others that are good, but this is the best.”
Tencia shies away a bashful smile.
“How do people react?” I ask her. “It’s so delicious. Everyone must love it!” Tencia laughs, unsure of how to answer, and then looks back up at me.
“I don’t know about that. But what I do know is that when I’m selling my bread, I’m the first one to have an empty basket.”
This is the difference that clean water makes. Tencia isn’t just earning income for her family anymore, she’s building a better future. Water has given her the chance to dream and the means to make her dreams a reality.
Every single donation you make to charity: water impacts the lives of families in need. Whether it’s $5 or $25. $100 or $1000. Give what you can, and know that 100% of your donation funds water projects and bigger dreams for women just like Tencia around the world.
“For me, I’m not just baking bread; I’m baking money.”
-Tencia Desmata; single mother, baker and entrepreneur