Tuesday, September 22, 2009
There we were, on a picture-perfect day standing at the foot of the awe-inspiring structure made entirely of coral harvested centuries ago from the reefs surrounding us--the great Fort Sebastian. The Fort was built in the 16th century by Portuguese soldiers on the Island of Mozambique. The Fort had an interesting evolution over the past four centuries: it was the Portuguese capital of Mozambique, an important refuge as a missionary center, a military barracks for the post-colonial government, and a high school. Now, it has taken on the role as a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Although the fort suffers from decades of decay, UNESCO has made great strides in refurbishing the interior to help the Fort withstand the visitor traffic it will receive from being listed as a World Heritage site. UNESCO took great pains to ensure the structure maintained its architectural integrity and remained a monument to the soldiers stationed there throughout its many years.
The dazzling turquoise waters surrounding the fort in the Mozambique Channel easily capture the heart. Fort Sebastian is a place that will forever be fondly imprinted upon my memory.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Monsoon winds have been blowing traders from India to Ilha de Moçambique (Island of Mozambique) since the 10th century. In the early 1500s Vasco de Gama arrived in Ilha and built a Portuguese fort out of blocks of the coral reef surrounding the island, claiming the territory for his nation.
After nearly 500 years of Portuguese rule, Mozambique gained its independence in 1975. The fort was used as a military barracks during Mozambique’s bloody civil war and later as a school. As the population on Ilha surged during the civil war, the fort fell into disrepair. Poverty-stricken Ilha residents searching for firewood found the window casings and wooden support beams of the fortress to be a cheap source of fuel. While wandering the streets of Ilha this August, we came upon a man using an axe to chip away at a large beam that clearly had come from the fortress. He reminded me that when people are hungry today, they can’t worry about preserving cultural treasures for tomorrow.
Like its fort, Ilha itself is truly a unique place to visit. Although Ilha is less than three kilometers long, it has a population of over 14,000 people. Natural beauty and incomprehensible squalor coexist side-by-side on this tiny island.
Most of the population on the island live in shanties made of sticks, straw, and the occasional piece of corrugated iron. While water is now piped onto the island, it is not sufficient to provide sanitation facilities to the island’s residents. Cholera outbreaks are common, while the beautiful beaches are used as bathrooms.
Although the sanitation problem in the reed town prevents the island from being an ideal beach resort, there are many other reasons for exploring Ilha. At night the streets are pitch black, making star gazing from the middle of the road a fabulous experience (don't worry – there are very few cars on Ilha). Small museums offer a glimpse into the island’s colorful past. For example, the governor’s palace is furnished with beautiful carved furniture from Goa, India. Moreover, the natural beauty of the area is breathtaking. The teal and blues of the water are calm and inviting. You can hire a local boat to take you on a day of sailing around the coral reefs.
Despite the island’s poverty, there are several very comfortable guest houses and small hotels that have reasonable rates. You will find they are equipped with modern conveniences like hot water and comfortable beds equipped with mosquito nets.
Ilha’s many restaurants offer an interesting fusion of cuisine. Traditional Matapa (the green leaves of a staple tuber cooked with local cashew nuts), curries, fresh seafood, and Portuguese style dishes predominate. Pizza and French-inspired foods can be found as well,and fresh fruit is plentiful.
If you are looking to contribute to the local economy by shopping, there are a few shops which sell unique handmade crafts and jewelry. Most markets are set up for locals and with creativity can be a great source of gifts. The morning market by the water is bustling with people selling vegetables, freshly harvested sea salt, palm frond brooms, fabric, and—if you need something to store all these items in—plastic containers from China. There are also shops where you can buy African print clothing: men’s lounge pants and long sleeve shirts as well as women’s “skorts” and dresses.
While discovering Ilha, I learned that the government, realizing that the fort was an important part of Mozambique’s history, turned to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for help. In partnership with other United Nations organizations, UNESCO has been working with local authorities and contractors to restore the fort to its former state. This has been no small task - over the years, attempts to patch up problems resulted in faulty repairs that resulted in chunks of concrete breaking off of walls and ceilings. To ensure that local contractors are taught proper preservation techniques for this unique structure, UNESCO works almost exclusively with local contractors. UNESCO is also partnering with the United Nations Development program to ensure that preservation contributes to poverty reduction. Thus, the fort will not only be a tourist attraction, but will also be a venue for community gatherings as well as a source of clean drinking water for Ilha residents, thanks to the rehabilitation of the fort’s original 16th century rain water collection system.
An island rich in culture and history, Ilha de Mozambique is a truly unique place; a place of pizza and curries, vibrant markets and soiled beaches, medieval architecture and shanty towns. For those that enjoy diversity and getting off the beaten path, Ilha is fabulous place to find yourself.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The economic development program was also interesting. They are developing sewing and textile businesses, fishing and boat building enterprises and an egg production facility. These are not "new" to the village but they are training a broader base of craftsmen in the various trades to create jobs and produce products that can be sold for the individual and the village. What is most fascinating about this program is the reliance on local craftsman and the minimum amount of new technology. For example, to power the fishing boat being built, a used truck engine was modified for marine use instead of purchasing a new more complicated marine engine. The fisherman already knew how to service the truck engine.
The community leadership development program involves all levels of existing local leadership, traditional tribal/clan leaders, young, old, men, and women. They are learning to arrive at consensus, take notes at meetings and be held accountable for decisions and action plans. The leadership and future community programs will grow organically from the village customs and traditions.
The UNDP program is not trying to westernize this village. It is to help the people develop the services and programs that will enhance and make better the life of the village based on the their values, customs and traditions.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Lumpo, the Millennium Village, represents a very ambitious, long term project, to develop local leadership capabilities which will allow villagers to participate in the planning and administration of their own affairs.
I was impressed by the commitment of the people to create a school system from the ground up. Much of their energy is devoted to simply providing food and water for their families. There is no water systems, no electricity, no sanitation and the roads are in terrible shape. Water must be hand carried to the house and to the fields for irrigation. Yet, despite all of these obstacles, they have built two buildings which comprise the main school complex and plan on building two other buildings for the children who live too far to attend the main campus. In addition they have built a community center which will house a health clinic, community offices and a computer center.
The school program is geared for what the students need right now, which is basic math, reading and language instruction. They are not trying to create a Western style of schooling, providing all sorts of exotic programs and electives. The children are being taught what is necessary and needed.
Pen, pencils and paper are in short supply. The main equipment for teachers is a blackboard and chalk. The students took notes, recited the lesson or worked problems on the blackboard. There are no overhead projectors, no Power-Point presentations, no computers, no calculators. But despite the lack of tools, real education and learning were taking place.
Part 2 Coming Tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The experience of a world traveler has taken me to a new level of understanding. The countries that I would only hear about from the television, magazines or newspapers are nothing like a real life, tangible, personal experience.
When I arrived at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, the drive to Maputo, Mozambique was unique. Along the paved highway were farms growing the country’s pride and joy: bananas, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, papayas, nectarines, macadamia nuts, and aloe plants. The man made forest was a sight to see as well. The planting of eucalyptus and pine trees had made the project a success, with milled lumber used for home construction, mine support beams, and paper products.
While on the journey we passed a game reserve. I was surprised to see antelope and zebras from the highway. I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming—I am really in Africa.
I wonder to myself where all the people are walking? Where they are coming from? How long they will walk? I wanted to just stop them to ask, but alas, the road before us was long.
We finally arrived at our destination some 8 hours later. I was surprised to see children playing in polluted water only blocks from the ocean.
On our way to our hotel, we got lost in Maputo. We stopped to find the proper turn that would take us to the hotel. The local police swooped down on us—telling our driver that it is illegal to stop on the road and demanding a cash payment. It was like a scene from the movies… but those were real guns they were waving around.
Finally safe in the hotel, seeing the bats drop from the roof eaves was a sight to witness. It was scary to see swarms of tiny bats going on a feeding frenzy, but I was thankful they were eating the mosquitoes and other insects.
The next morning I awoke to the crowing of a rooster. It was amazing to see the sun rise in the Northeast and travel quickly towards the Northwest. It wasn’t the slow rise that I see in Kansas City, but it seems the sun is sprinting across the horizon, racing an unseen opponent.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Chaos: Border crossing between South Africa and Mozambique: Minimal organization and other than the uniformed personnel behind the counters, it is impossible to tell officials from the public. Large numbers of peddlers, money-changers, and con artists clog the pathways to the offices, though surprisingly, out of this chaos order prevails.
Squalor: The drive to Maputo and in Maputo itself was a look into the eyes of abject poverty and desperate squalor. Makeshift houses, trash dumps in the city, people “harvesting” the trash heaps just to survive.
Corruption: Our driver, Robert, had taken a wrong turn in Maputo, and we found ourselves stopped behind a stationary car. Three policemen were standing on the curb. Robert stopped to ask directions and was informed he had committed a traffic violation by stopping on this street. Heated words were exchanged, and we were finally permitted to leave after paying the required bribe. This is a common occurrence, I was later told.
Optimism: The beauty and artistry on display at the Saturday Craft Market and the natural beauty of the beaches and coastline were counterpoints to the trash heaps, garbage dumps, and deplorable living conditions observed on our trip into the city. The city is teeming with street vendors. It is the only way the majority of the people can make a living. This “black market” or “underground economy” contributes nothing to the city/country’s tax base, but the legitimate economy is inaccessible to the average man. An overwhelming sense of optimism abounded throughout these early steps of our journey, all that we meet sense that this young country has potential yet unrealized, a latent promise yet to be seen.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
At the beginning of the millennium, Mozambique seemed on its way to sustainable and prosperous economic growth. Having recently overcome a devastating civil war that killed nearly 1 million people and displaced countless more, Mozambique looked forward to a projected 10 percent growth rate and to taking on a position of leadership in Africa.
Just three months later however, the country suffered an enormous setback when severe widespread flooding occurred. And just one month later, natural disaster struck again as a destructive cyclone tore through the center of the country. These tragedies have severely impeded Mozambique’s growth, which has since decreased to less than 4 percent. According to official UN figures, the floods killed over 700 people, destroyed the homes of 250,000, ruined vast areas of cultivated land, and killed large numbers of cattle. Flooding also destroyed or damaged 90 percent of Mozambique’s irrigation infrastructure, along with hundreds of schools, hospitals, and businesses.
In the past ten years, Mozambique has made great strides in recovering from its misfortune in 2000. In projects spearheaded by the United Nations Delivering as One Project, Mozambique has received over $250 million in aid. Today, the nation boasts a growth rate of over 7 percent. However, there is still work to be done. The country relies heavily on foreign aid and suffers from a 21 percent unemployment rate, as well as a serious human trafficking problem. Large numbers of young women and children are trafficked to South Africa for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Most of the perpetrators have avoided prosecution and capture, exacerbating the problem and hampering efforts to stop these atrocious crimes.
Furthermore, corruption within the government and a lack of solid financial infrastructure continue to hinder the development of Mozambique. UNDP is dedicated to helping Mozambique fulfill the Millennium Development Goals and continue its journey to becoming a self-sufficient state.
From August 5-15 UNDP-USA's Executive Director Elizabeth Latham, will be leading a team through Mozambique to experience UNDP's work first hand. Her team will be blogging their experiences live here and through UNDP-USA's Twitter.