Article on Mozambique Experience - by Amanda Stephenson

When I won the chance to travel with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to the African country of Mozambique, one of the conditions was that I would come back and write about my experiences. The program is designed to help CIDA get the word out to Canadians about the work it is doing overseas by giving journalists a chance to see it firsthand.

Now, I knew as soon as I'd been there for a few days that writing about the trip would be no problem. The experience was so incredible that my fingers were itching to hit the keyboard. But my challenge, I knew, would be finding a way to make readers as interested in what I saw as I was. Of course I was excited about what I'd seen-I was there, I met the people, I experienced the sights and sounds of the country firsthand. But how would I convince people here in Moosomin-who have so many local concerns and issues to think about-that they should care about a country on the far side of the world? If I hadn't had this chance to go there, what would I need to hear to make me want to read about Mozambique?

First, I suppose I would be interested to know that even if I had never heard of the place, I am already indirectly involved. Mozambique is a "country of priority" for CIDA, meaning my tax dollars, and yours, are being spent in that country on things like schools and health care and water systems.
I don't know why this isn't more publicized-people in our corner of the province are some of the most generous people I have ever met, and would probably like to know that they are helping to improve conditions in one of the world's poorest countries.

People in our corner of the province are also practical-while they like to give to a good cause, they also want to know their money is being used appropriately. Too often, when it comes to foreign aid, Canadians worry that the money they give never gets to the people who need it most, or gets eaten up in administration costs. After seeing it firsthand, I realize that Canada is making a difference on the other side of the world, and in very concrete ways. Every school textbook in the whole country, for example, is provided by Canada. When I visited a rural school in Mozambique and saw the children with their Canadian-provided textbooks sitting in desks purchased for them by members of the Pine House First Nation in northern Saskatchewan (before that, the kids had to sit on the floor to do their lessons), and listened to them sing a song thanking their Canadian friends, I felt an immense sense of pride in my country.

Mozambique is on the other side of the world, but the links between it and Canada are so strong that I often felt closer to home than I really was. Everywhere I went, I met Canadians-whether it was the Red Cross doctors working in short-term disaster relief in an area that had recently been hit by a cyclone, the two University of Saskatchewan professors who have set up a health care training centre in the small Mozambican community of Massinga, or the recently-retired Alberta man I sat beside on the plane who was heading out for a three-week volunteer assignment working on water purification with the charity Samaritan's Purse (his first overseas volunteer placement and quite an adventure for a 60-something man who could have chosen to spend his retirement on the golf course!) Every day, I was inspired by the passion, energy, and commitment I saw from Canadians who are doing what they can to make the world a better place.

It also might surprise you to discover that a significant number of locals in Mozambique have heard of Saskatchewan (and even know how to pronounce it!), because our province also has a large presence in that country. I have already mentioned the University of Saskatchewan professors who established the Massinga Health Centre. While visiting the Health Centre, I spent time with four young nursing students from the University of Saskatchewan who were just finishing up their practicums there, and met the Mozambican director of the centre who spent time studying in Saskatchewan. In the capital city, Maputo, I met James Hill-Canada's High Commissioner to Mozambique-who is from Weyburn. And of course, there was my visit to the school, whose students have been corresponding with students from the Pine House First Nation and who have received beautiful new desks thanks to their Saskatchewan friends.

The more I thought about it on the long plane ride home, the more I realized Mozambique and those of us here in Saskatchewan are connected, whether we know it or not. I don't know how many people I met over there whose faces broke into big smiles when they heard I was from Canada, largely because of the good work that is being done by your tax dollars and the committed Canadians who are putting them to use. People in Mozambique know about us-it would be a good thing if we knew a little more about them.

I hope, in the next few weeks, I will be able to convey to you some of the fascinating things I saw there. I hope I can convey at least a little of the admiration I felt for the Mozambican people who are working hard to improve their own lives, and the pride I felt in our own country, which is helping them do it.

Amanda Stephenson will be writing a series of feature articles on Mozambique, which will be appearing in upcoming editions of the World-Spectator.

- April 17, 2007


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