Thursday, October 01, 2009

Carrying the baby
The other day, I spent the whole day at the office. For lunch on such days, we run across the street to the South African grocery store to buy a la carte items. That day I didn't bring my baby carrier but I did have a capulana with me. Mozambican women use capulanas for a lot of things, but one of the chief purposes of them are to carry their children. So far I haven't carried Nadia around using a capulana, but decided to try it that day.

One of the tricks of the trade is getting the baby on your back and then arranging the fabric well enough to create a little seat for the child and eventually tying it tight enough. So I asked our (male) office administrator to help me and off I went to the store. No sooner had I walked through the parking lot of the office, then several teenage girls came over to me and told me it wasn't tied right. So on the side of the road, two girls helped me re-tie the capulana so Nadia would be secure. While I walked across the road, the women selling fruit told me that I should move her from my back to my front. By that time, because she's not used to being in a capulana, hshe ad wiggled her way out of it and I ended up using it more as a half sling to help me carry her on my hip.

When I went through the check out, Nadia was fussy. The checker told me I should take her hat off because that was causing her discomfort. I replied that she was hungry (suspecting hunger and dislike of the capulana) because she doesn't normally cry when she has a hat on. I felt like saying, but didn't "You're saying my baby doesn't like her springtime hat when I see numerous babies dressed for snow in 90 degree, 120% humidity? And my baby doesn't like her hat?" As I crossed the street, the women fruit sellers once again told me that I wasn't carrying her right.

Today I went out with her in my baby carrier. No one commented about the way I carried her and I didn't fear dropping her. I think I'll practice carrying her in a capulana at home with my housekeeper teaching me how to tie before venturing out again.
Update on Savings Groups
I (Jenny) haven't been around much lately. Taking care of a 3-month old baby leaves little time (or energy) to get out and visit my projects. But the savings group project continues to amaze us all. Below is an exerpt of a newsletter written by the MCC Rep in Mozambique about the savings group project:

SAVINGS GROUPS are one of the most dynamic things we're involved in for the last 15 months, with amazing grassroots changes going on, something hard to write about in just a few sentences. People are asking, "WHERE WAS THIS MONEY?!" and "Where has this Savings been!?" [Why didn't we know about it earlier!?] Story after story keeps coming in of how people are empowered, and of how a culture of truth-telling, punctuality, openness, transparency, accountability, and responsibility is being created.
A group of people who trust each other meet regularly to contribute to their own savings box, and after accumulating a certain amount, begin giving out loans to members or others they trust, to be repaid with interest. They set aside money in a "social fund" that serves as an insurance pool for them. They make lots of internal rules and fine any member who violates them. They get back their savings plus interest and money from fines at the end of a cycle, usually 6-12 months depending on their choice. They have officers, detailed record keeping, exhaustive transparency by full recounting of money during each meeting, and they make decisions together. They are their own bosses. The money comes from them, not from any else. The discipline is internal, not imposed from outside. Some of them gather astonishing amounts of money in rural areas where everyone thought they were poor. When they divide up the funds at the end of a cycle, members have accumulated money to make larger purchases and investments they usually could not afford. This is important because cultural values of "sharing" make accumulating money difficult (but keep people poor), and because most districts of Mozambique have no banks of any kind.
The Women's Society of the United Church of Christ learned of this from MCC staff, and since last August has trained and formed upwards of 70 groups in half of Mozambique's provinces. They enter areas where they have interested churches, but emphasize that all people are welcome. Many of the groups contain people from multiple churches, no church at all, or sometimes other faiths. In one place, the weekly meeting is before the church service, and now the service starts on time instead of routinely 90 minutes late (group members pay fines for arriving late to savings meetings, and the new habit transferred). In another, the savings group met after church, and group members who were not part of the church started coming to services, some became believers, and now people need to come to church early to get a seat (instead of it starting 60-90 minutes late). In another church where members seldom had even half a metical (2 cents US) to put in the offering, the 12 savings group members each contributed 50 meticals ($2 each) to buy church benches instead of sitting in the dust. "WE PROMISE YOU," they told the visiting head of the Women's Society, "YOU ARE GOING TO SEE GREAT CHANGES HERE!" The women spearheading this effort want to take it wider through inter-church organizations, as soon as we can provide more funding for basic expenses of seminars and training.
The president of the denomination said that in just 6 months, these had "revolutionized" communities. He said that earlier if he wanted to talk with someone in rural communities, they would look down or away and be reluctant to speak. Now people rise up and speak freely and openly, with dignity. He talked about how so many of their (the churches'? the leaders'?) efforts over the years have come to nothing, and how “this shows the need to change our way of working with people, because it is leading to completely different results." He/we went on to talk about empowering people, transparency, shared decision-making, telling people that they need to make decisions about their own lives (instead of waiting for someone to come tell them what to do, or instead of being the big bosses who come through and lecture people on what to do). He noted how this is giving women dignity and confidence in communities, where so often they are overlooked and dismissed.
Women are leading all of these efforts. MCC had suggested to the women's society that not all group officers should be men, if the groups contained both men and women. Somehow that changed into public statements that men could not be in the leadership of a group. Whether that was truly misunderstood, or whether it suited the Women's Society to try to promote women's leadership and confidence, we do not know, but we do see dynamic effects on women's confidence and self-respect in these places.