Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Go Black Stars!!!!

As I am sitting down to write this email, Ghana and Brazil are about to take to the field for their 2nd Round Match at the World Cup. The reason I am so excited about this game is that Ghanan “Black Stars” are the only African country to qualify for the second round at this year’s tournament and are the overwhelming sentimental favourite for myself many of my friends here in Mozambique. Over the past two weeks I am allowed myself to be carried away with this football mad country. When Cremildo and I were up in Quelimane and Nampula, we closely followed the results and regularly congregated at the local watering holes to take in the action. Many of the store owners in town would leave televisions on in the display window and in some cases there would be up to a hundred people all crowded around to try and get a view of their favourite players.

Football simply unites Africa, providing these countries with an opportunity to show the world that there is more to the “dark continent” then just starvation, disease and war. Football seems to encapsulate the living soul and the eternal optimism of a people focused on a brighter future. Look at how Angola was able to reach the world’s highest tournament only three years after emerging from 22 years of brutal civil conflict where the country was nearly ravaged for all its worth. Or look at how the Ivory Coast was able to broker a ceasefire in their civil hostilities as their country qualified for the championships. Or Ghana, a team nearly everyone picked to finish last in their pool, proudly displaying that they can compete quite effectively on the world stage, even disposing of the USA and the Czech Republic along the way!!

The Great Pele was convinced that an African team would win the world cup by the start of the 21st century…so here’s to Ghana in their bid to carry out that bold prediction and satisfy the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. It’s not just pride on the line here but a heavy dose of respect and defeating the mighty Brazilians, although a tremendous feat indeed, would provide a monumental boost to not only this West African country but the continent as a whole.

As for me, I am pounding away at my computer back here in Maputo after a fantastic week and a half in the field. There is much to do in the next few days as I anxiously look towards my two week holiday back home in Canada. If any one would like anything special from Mozambique, I guess now would be the time to ask for it!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World Cups and Working in the Field

The world’s greatest sporting tournament is already well under way and I have been swept into the football madness that is consuming the city of Maputo. Now I am not a very committed or motivated soccer fan but I absolutely go crazy for the World Cup. To me it is the epitome of sports as politics and I cannot help but become infatuated by the socio-political subplots and the exceptional displays of skill on the field. Now if only international disputes could be solved in accordance with the beautiful game…then we would really be on to something!!

As a Canadian, our sporting passion is generally fueled by hockey, not soccer, and most Canadians have long given up on our nation’s chance of qualifying for soccer’s greatest tournament. As a result, most Canadians tend to throw their support behind their family’s country of origin. I’ve always said that if Canadian were to ever qualify again for the World Cup (we did once in 1986, failed to score a goal and promptly lost all three opening round matches) most Canadians would still cheer for either Germany, Italy, Portugal, England, Brazil over our boys playing under the Maple Leaf.

When it comes to my allegiances in International Soccer I tend to throw my support behind England, although their pitiful display against Paraguay on Saturday left me to believe that the English fans will have to wait another four years before they will come close to being crowed world champions. I also have the tendency to always root for the underdog in sports and at the World Cup that has generally caused me to cheer for the African representatives. I was particularly interested in the Angola-Portugal game in which the Angolan side tried tenaciously to defeat their former colonial rulers but could not overcome an early 1-0 deficit and lost by a single goal.

The Brazilian community here in Maputo has had a considerable impact on the local population as most Mozambicans are quite emphatic supporters of Brazil…as well as any African nation going up against a European powerhouse. It looks to be a fascinating tournament and it will be interesting to see who will pull off the shocking upsets, the memorable moments and eventually end up as World Champions.

My posting will likely continue to be sporadic in the coming weeks as my colleague Cremildo and I are once again heading up into Northern Mozambique to work in the field. We will be working with three different partners during that time and it promises to be a very eventful two weeks. We will be completing the first phase of our impact study on HIV/AIDS training for Banco Oportunidade in the Zambezie Province then heading back to the city of Nampula to work with Caixa das Mulheres (CMN) and Ophavela.

When we began this project we underestimated the difficulties that we would have in encouraging progress with our northern partners that are separated from us by almost 3000 km. CMN especially needs a lot of onsite assistance and this visit will hopefully inspire them to work harder on their partnership building and implementation of their HIV/AIDS workplan. I am also extremely excited to work once again with Ophavela in the field as we will have the opportunity to train their staff in conducting focus group discussions with their members. We will then travel into the rural districts to discuss with the members about potential changes in their group policies to better accommodate members that are either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. This is the type of grassroots microfinance that is really inspiring to me and it continues to impress me with the benefits it brings to the members.

So I guess I’m signing off for the next little while as the internet connection tends to be spotty at best when we travel up north. Enjoy the World Cup everyone and I will be back towards the end of the month.



Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Homeward Bound

Hey everyone, this is just a notice, mostly to all the good folk in Winnipeg, that I will be coming home to visit in less than a month!! I will be arriving in Winnipeg on July 4th and leaving on the 15th and I will be trying to make the most out of those 11 days. I am very excited to see all of you, resume old conversations, sing old songs, laugh at old jokes and eat my mother's fantastic home cooking!! Of course I will be heading to the Winnipeg Folk Festival from the 6th to the 9th to soak in the splendor of Manitoba's beautiful people and the positive sounds of the exceptional musicians from around the globe.

I hope I get a chance to see all of you when I am home, even if it for a brief encounter. You all mean so very much to me and I've carried you all with me during my time here in Mozambique. We will be having a bit of a party at my parents place the night I return so please come on by to share a drink and a story. If you don't know how to get there, just talk to someone who does.

Peace and love to you all and I'll see you on the 4th!!


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Measuring Impact

Aside from climbing mountains and getting malaria, our week up in Manica and Sofala provinces saw us begin the first major activity of our HIV/AIDS pilot project with our four participating Mozambican microfinance operators. This week we were working with Banco Oportunidade to carry out an impact study on the HIV/AIDS training that they were offering their clients and staff. The purpose of this study is to determine the level of HIV/AIDS knowledge among the subjects both before and after the training sessions that are being carried out until the end of July. In addition to measuring the level of knowledge, we were also interested in determining whether the training sessions would have any impact on the social and sexual behaviour of the clients and staff.

Cremildo and I designed the survey quantitative survey instrument which was a big change for us as up to this point we had been doing primary qualitative research, asking mostly personal opinion questions of the staff and clients that we encountered. We also wisely chose to hire two local enumerators who worked for the National Institute of Statistics to help us with the interviews. This was great because, as I had already experienced in Nampula and Gaza province, some of the clients only spoke a limited Portuguese and thus had the option to converse in the local language.

We spent three days in Manica province interviewing staff at the main branch in Chimoio as well as making excursions out to the surrounding towns along the Beira corridor such as Gondola, Inchope and Nhamatanda. Some of the interview questions covered basic knowledge issues such as:

  • Can you name three methods by which HIV/AIDS can be transmitted?
  • Can you describe some of the visible symptoms of HIV/AIDS infection?
  • Do you know where one can go to receive a voluntary HIV/AIDS test?
  • Once a person becomes infected with HIV/AIDS, what actions can they take to maintain a good standard of health?

Even with the years of HIV/AIDS prevention work that has been done in this region it was quite interesting to see the difficulty some of the clients had with answering of these basic questions whose answers we don’t even think twice about in the West.

We also ventured into the awkward territory of asking some pretty direct questions related to sexual behaviour and to my surprise we did not have a single respondent refuse to answer questions such as:

· Do you use condoms during sexual intercourse (always, most of the time, sometimes, never).

· How many sexual partners do you currently have?

· Have you ever been for a voluntary HIV/AIDS test?

We felt that these questions were essential to measuring any positive impact of the training sessions. However, changing behaviour is unfortunately much easier said than done, as countless frustrated HIV/AIDS activists can attest to in this part of the world. It is simply shocking to me how in the face of such a ghastly pandemic sweeping across their country, many African men can still live lives of infidelity, reject the use of condoms and refrain from getting the all important test to determine their status. Still knowledge is the greatest tool in the fight against ignorance and the tide seems to be turning in the right direction. The next generation of Mozambicans are depending on this all important realization.