When asked to select an inspiring woman to highlight for International Women’s Day, the first person that came to mind was Pelagia Mukumba Pita. She is the Crafts Coordinator for the Ecohealth Project, a project funded by USAID Mozambique. She is responsible for training women on how to cut and sew traditional capulana cloths into placemats and bags that are later sold to tourists. She oversees the purchase of these products from community members and their sale to the tourist gift shop in Gorongosa National Park.
Photo: Pelagia teaching women to make crafts from capulana cloth
One of the most inspiring things about Pelagia’s story is how she achieved her successful career and the sacrifices she has made for her family. Pelagia was born in Manica province, Mozambique, very close to the border of Zimbabwe but she was raised in Zimbabwe and started a family there. In 2006, when her husband passed away, she had to go to Mozambique to find work. She made the difficult decision to leave her daughter, Kudzaishe, and son, Anaishe, with her mother so that they could get a better English-language education in Zimbabwe. She explains,
"Yes, it is hard to have them live so far away from me but I have no choice after all, I have to work for them, but I do make sure I visit them at least every 3 months."
In 2010, she got an opportunity to work in Gorongosa as a data collector on a baseline health survey in the communities around Gorongosa. She and her colleagues spent their days interviewing every household in 9 communities about their demographic and health status, in total interviewing 1905 households. This was not easy, as the homes are spread out and this meant long hikes and camping all week to reach all the households. After the data collection was complete, Pelagia was trained to enter the data into a specialized health database.
Photo: Pelagia with students and faculty from the Mt. Sinai Global Health Center talking to communities about health
This survey was conducted with the help of students and faculty from Mt. Sinai Global Health Center, in New York City, so Pelagia played a very important role in translating between English, Portuguese, and the local languages, Chi-Sena and Chi-Gorongosi. It is very hard to find someone that speaks all four languages, so we are very lucky to have Pelagia on our team.
I had an opportunity to talk with Pelagia about her work in Gorongosa:
How has working in Gorongosa impacted your life?
"For my personal life, thanks to this project I have managed to send my kids to school and they have everything they need, and I am working to build my house. I also managed to do an income-generating project with my mother and brother over the last holidays. I bought them each 60 chickens, which they are now raising to be sold. I am also putting two of my cousins through school here in Gorongosa. They both live with me and are already in 10th and 11th grade. Also I attended a 6-month driving class to prepare for my drivers license test, which I managed to pass. Overall, I've gained a lot of experience on this project especially in crafts, computers, and also with learning how to deal with community members."
How have you helped the people in Gorongosa’s communities?
"I've learned a lot of things, and gained a lot experience about how to work with people and the communities and have been watching how this project has made a lot of improvements with the communities, especially the women like the traditional birth attendants and community health workers who are now managing to do so many things on their own. These women have worked so hard to improve life in the community, especially in health. Before, most women were giving birth at home and now most women are giving birth in the hospital, which is something good. Most communities didn't have toilets but now they have been trained and have toilets and can manage to take care of their own health. It's difficult to change someone that has been doing things for years to teach them to do something different but they are managing to do things bit by bit. They are changing."
What do you like most about your job?
"I got to travel to South Africa for a training and be on an airplane for the first time. And I love my bosses because they always give me a lot of strength and encouragement and hope that tomorrow I will continue to work to improve people’s lives. And I get to meet big people like the first lady of Mozambique and the Governor of our province. There are so many things that I like about my job."
By Corina Clemente