The faces of courage

In the aftermath of two cyclones, the spirit of Mozambican mothers remains unbroken

Déborah Nguyen
Apr 3, 2019 · 6 min read

As the stories of these women show, the road to recovery after cyclones Idai and Kenneth will take months, if not years. While the World Food Programme (WFP) is planning reconstruction projects as part of its response, the next harvest will happen only in March. This means affected communities will have to rely on humanitarian assistance for several months before they get back on their feet.

Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth occurred only 40 days apart. They wreaked death and destruction in and around the city of Beira and in the province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique. Both disasters hit areas where cyclones were previously unknown, highlighting the unpredictable impact of climate change on weather patterns.

The destruction of homes, roads and infrastructures, however, did not break the spirit of women who lost everything but continued to work and care for their families.

I was in Mozambique in the aftermath of cyclone Idai and I spoke with many mothers. In spite of the devastation they faced, none of them ever complained. They shared their stories with me, without trying to hide their pain. Between the lines, I could guess the sacrifices they would never admit. In their eyes, I could only imagine the suffering they endured. In a few whispers, they’d share their dreams and hopes.

These women have overcome too many hurdles to be told. And yet, they stand strong as steel and are the rock of their families. Their stories are a lesson in courage. This story is an ode to them.

“I want my children to go to school.” — Maria

I meet Maria in an empty classroom — we are trying to find some shade, so we can chat. This is the very same classroom where, many years ago, she learned geography, her favorite subject at school. Today, Maria is a mum of three. Her youngest one, João, bears her same strength in his eyes. The strength of someone who won’t be defeated.

Maria works hard. Every day, she is busy preparing meals for the whole family, working in the fields from sunrise to sunset. In her daily routine, there is no time to dwell on her situation.

When I ask about how she sees her future, she mutters that her biggest hope is to keep her kids in school as long as possible. ‘‘I want them to learn, I want them to be educated, because I didn’t get that chance.’’

“I wish I could leave Beira, but my family is counting on me.” — Fatima

The night of Cyclone Idai, Fatima and her 6-month-old baby daughter hid under a table, frightened by the deafening strong winds. The next morning, Fatima recalls getting out of her house and walking in the quiet streets of Beira. She was worried about how she was going to rebuild her house.

Don’t be deceived by her infantile silhouette and scraggy voice. As the only breadwinner of her family of six, she doesn’t have time to complain. She hopes her small business selling bread and bolinhos (coconut balls) will grow. It enables her to feed her family, but she doubts she will be able to save enough to repair her house.

She dreams of a job in the public sector — a stable income would mean she wouldn’t have to worry all the time about whether she will have anything to bring to the dining table. ‘‘I hope I can find a stable job, and be able to provide everything my family needs. I wish I could leave Beira, but I need to be there for my family, they are counting on me.’’

“It is more difficult for us women. Men can do other jobs.” — Marta

‘‘I am a farmer, I produce maize and cassava,’’ says Marta. A typical day for her means plowing the field in boiling heat, from 5 am until 10 pm. The field where she used to work has been partly flooded by the heavy rains that followed the cyclone. A huge part of this year’s harvest is lost. She explains: ‘‘It is more difficult for us women. Men can do other jobs. But we can only work in the field.’’

Marta is a mother of three and is expecting a fourth baby. ‘‘I dream of becoming a teacher, but I know it will never happen. I will be a farmer my whole life. I want to try to grow different crops, and hopefully it will help us produce more that we need.’’

“The idea of not having a roof over our heads is daunting.’’— Fatima

Fatima raises her four children on her own. She has a small business selling rice cakes and chamussas (samosas), which earns her enough money to provide one meal a day to her family.

Fatima recalls the night of the cyclone, when strong winds ripped off the tin roof of her house and rain flooded her home up to her ankles. ‘‘Although my husband died many years ago, I was doing pretty well and even built a house. But now it is damaged,’’ she says in disbelief. ‘‘The idea of not having a roof over our heads is daunting.’’

With the food she received from WFP, she cooks meals for her family. She usually starts cooking early, before the children head to school. “They need energy to study. While they are at school, I clean the house, then I go out and sell cakes.’’ She hopes she can make more rice cakes to save up some money to repair the roof.

“I work hard so I can give my kids a better life.” — Atija

Atija is a farmer, she produces maize and cassava. Every day, she prepares maize meal to make porridge before she heads to the field where she spends nine hours.

“I wish I could have continued to study. My youngest daughter, Isabella loves going to school. She can read now. I hope I can give her that opportunity, to learn more. I work hard so I can give my kids a better life.’’

WFP in Mozambique works to increase the number of smallholder farmers with a focus on women-led organizations by promoting labour-saving technologies and gender awareness training for women and men, manage and aggregate business, food storage and handling, and quality control to reduce post-harvest losses.

So far, WFP has reached more than 1,7 million people in Mozambique with food assistance. Please donate now to help WFP continue saving and changing lives.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme