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Building houses and fighting AIDS in Mozambique

September 15, 2011

Like many single-parent mothers in the small, dusty, rural villages of Mozambique’s Gaza Province, Anna Chilaule goes about the daily tasks required to sustain life and care for her young children.

She vigorously chops wood with an axe to fuel a fire for cooking. Outside her new, two-room Habitat for Humanity house, she stoops as she sweeps her yard with a traditional reed broom. The 29-year-old pounds maize, lifting a long and heavy wooden shaft into the air and bringing it down with intense force onto kernels placed into a large wooden container.

 

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Anna Chilaule, 29, who is HIV-positive and taking medicine to fight the disease, uses a long wooden shaft to pound maize. ©Steffan Hacker/Habitat for Humanity International

She also makes sure she continues taking her AIDS medicine.

After her husband, Tomascossa, died of HIV more than two years ago, Chilaule was diagnosed with AIDS. She was pregnant and pledged to take proper drugs to protect the baby. Her second son, Gabriel, was born about 20 months ago. He has been tested. He is not infected.

Her husband ’s last words to her: “Keep on taking care of the kids and take care of your life, because I don’t know if I am going to survive or die.”

The AIDS rate here in Gaza is staggering: 25.1 percent, among the highest throughout Africa. In 2010, the Mozambique government estimated there were 88,000 orphans (age 17 and under) in Gaza, thousands of whom lost one or both parents to HIV.

Habitat for Humanity Mozambique’s Orphans and Vulnerable Groups program builds simple, decent houses for at-risk orphans, orphan-headed households and in-need single-parent and single-adult families. The program built 435 homes in fiscal year 2011, sheltering at least 600 Gaza orphans. But the project also has help from partner organization Tshembeca (it means “faithfulness”), which administers AIDS education to Habitat partner families.

“Since we started work with Habitat we have already seen a change in conditions,” said Tshembeca coordinator Alfred Mondlane. His organization serves hundreds of those at risk, including 134 families selected by Habitat to receive multi-room brick houses with three windows, two doors and an iron sheet roof.

An adequate shelter, Mondlane said, improves health conditions and lessens the need for family members to take risk by consenting to sex for money (the country’s per capita income is roughly $1 per day).

Tshembeca’s administrator, Elia Bila, said many in the villages who are infected are coming for assistance when they wouldn’t have before, “because they have heard the stories about their friends and neighbors who have been helped.”

When Chilaule was diagnosed, she vowed to fight the disease “and do everything possible to keep my family safe.”

Not only has her baby Gabriel been tested, but so has her 11-year-old son, Raphael. Like his brother, Raphael is not infected.

The family has lived in their Habitat house for less than a year. Before, they lived in a reed shack that leaked badly in the rain. Often the trio had to stand for hours, huddled together in a corner, during rainy nights to try to keep dry. They frequently got colds.

 

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Luisa Novela, who is HIV-positive and taking medicine to fight the disease, sits inside her new Habitat house with her daughter Locerna, 13, in her remote rural village in Gaza Province, Mozambique. ©Steffan Hacker/Habitat for Humanity International

“My house has made a great difference,” Chilaule said. “Now we feel safe. No rain comes inside this house.”

Rain is also no longer a problem for Luisa Novela, 35, a single-parent AIDS sufferer who lives in a nearby village. She and her children, Locerna, 13, and Alvoro, 9, were able to move from their reed home, which leaked badly in the rain, to a sturdy new Habitat house.

Novela’s health has improved at times, and deteriorated at others. But like Chilaule, she is taking medicine, has received HIV counseling and is trying to battle the disease.

“I have been shown love, and it encourages me,” Novela said.

Her home is in a remote area of her village. To help get Habitat building materials to the site, community members would pick up one or two bricks when they would collect water at the local pump for the day and tote them down the small dirt path among fallen trees and overgrown fields to Novela’s home site.

“The challenge before was that I could do nothing to protect my children,” Novela said. Now, with a Habitat home and secure tenure, “if I die they are protected. They have a place to lay their head at night.”

The Habitat houses have had a huge impact on individuals in need in Gaza, said Benedito Manjate, monitoring and evaluation manager for the provincial government’s AIDS Council.

“The people start to believe that their lives are changing,” Manjate said. “People are responding to what Habitat and the government is doing for them. So we are making the foundations to improve their quality of life and to stop this death.”

Novela believes that, too. But she expresses it with different words: “I now sometimes feel like I can touch the sky, even though it is far, far away.”