By Fiachra Brennan
Reports of human tragedy and disaster are unfortunately all too common. Most of time, they happen to people we have never met in places we have never been. Three disastrous events dominated my newsfeed last weekend – The shooting in Christchurch, the stampede in Tyrone, and the impact of Cyclone Idai. These are all tragedies – heart-breaking, untimely, and shocking. For many Irish people, however, Cyclone Idai is a bit different.
I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Young Africa Mozambique in April 2013. I volunteered my time in both the Manga and Dondo campuses. Dondo was in its early stages of development – Only one teaching building and two toilet blocks were complete, but it was clear that an ambitious plan to provide agricultural training programmes was well underway. Young Africa identified that the agricultural sector in Mozambique was underdeveloped. Establishing the Agri-Tech centre would give young people a chance to gain the skills to develop a career in this sector, increasing their opportunities, and helping to break the cycle of poverty. Our contribution was small – We worked alongside the local team to erect a perimeter fence, paint one of the new toilet blocks, and install mosquito nets for the still empty classrooms. As we left Dondo on our last day, the team were laying the wires that would provide electricity for the campus. The future was bright.
Manga, first established in 2007, was already a thriving campus delivering innovative and effective educational programmes, focusing on TVET, promoting life skills, and tackling youth unemployment. We lived there during our placement, staying in huts that the first SERVE volunteer group had built in 2008. Our leaders stayed in the volunteer house, painted and decorated by another SERVE group. We visited the hostel, a programme funded by SERVE and Irish Aid, that aimed to give vulnerable girls the opportunity to access an education and new horizons that otherwise would be out of their reach. Dinner was in Magico, the on-site restaurant run by a local entrepreneur. He ran it through Young Africa’s franchise programme, which promotes self-sustainability. He was not only running a restaurant, he was also training a new generation of chefs, who would then go off to start their own career. The chicken (before my vegetarian days) we were served came straight from the coup, funded and built by yet another SERVE group.
My all too brief stay in Mozambique introduced me to the shared values of SERVE and Young Africa, values that have helped the dream of youth empowerment become a reality. These values include sustainability, partnership, and solidarity. Sustainability means delivering programmes that seek to tackle the root causes of poverty and provide long-lasting and meaningful solutions. Partnership means working together towards a common goal, despite geographical, cultural, and linguistic differences. Finally, solidarity means standing side-by-side with people, because it is the right thing to do. The struggles of a young Mozambican have little, at least on the surface, to do with the everyday life of an average Irish person. It is possible to go through your day focusing on yourself, your problems, and trying to find solutions
that help you, and you alone. The one hundred or so Irish people that have volunteered with Young Africa disagree. By committing to freely give their time, energy, and expertise, they have rejected self-interest, and instead declared that they want to live in a world that rises others up. They believe that the only thing that separates them from young Mozambicans is geographical difference, and nothing else. In-country, their solidarity has manifested itself by working alongside the local people – SERVE volunteers do not take anyone’s’ job or seek to impose their own solutions. Rather they are there to give freely and without expectation of reward. They do so as an act of genuine human solidarity.
I haven’t had a chance to return to Mozambique since 2013. I was looking forward to seeing the transformation of Dondo, the new provisions for people with disabilities in Manga, and to try
Magico’s famous rice once again. Cyclone Idai has changed everything. Both campuses are submerged in water, some buildings have been damaged beyond repair, and students in Dondo are cut off, struggling to access basic provisions. It is a human tragedy of an unimaginable scale, happening to people our volunteers have shared experiences with.
Young Africa will recover. It is an organisation with incredible capacity, great staff, and a powerful dream. What it needs right now is what SERVE’s volunteers have always shown – Genuine human solidarity. It easy to feel hopeless and helpless, living comfortably on the other side of the world. But solidarity is still possible and is needed now more than ever.
Young Africa is more than buildings – It is people, it is spirit, it is the dream of providing greater opportunities for the youth of Africa. That will live on. You can play you part in ensuring that happens.
4 things YOU can do right now to show solidarity with Young Africa and the people of Beira
1. Donate to the SERVE emergency appeal – Every cent counts and makes a meaningful difference to those suffering in this dire humanitarian situation.
2. Share – Write to your local TDs, your MEPS, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Tell them about Young Africa, about the contribution that one hundred Irish people have made to its development, and about the powerful bond of global solidarity. Push them for more support and a commitment towards ensuring Young Africa’s bright future.
3. Organise – Organise your own fundraising and awareness event – A coffee morning, a pub quiz, a street concert, whatever you can do. It will raise vital funds and awareness.
4. Change – Cyclone Idai is a climate change related disaster. They are becoming all too common. Take action now – Attend the next climate action protest, sign-up to a carbon programme to offset you flights, and try reducing the amount of meat in your diet.