Diary of a Volunteer in Mozambique: When Holidays Are Not Just About Sun and Sand

Diary of a Volunteer in Mozambique: When Holidays Are Not Just About Sun and Sand

09.1.2020

Rosabel Blanco Sabugo, deputy manager of the Palomera (Leon) branch of Caixabank, spent her holidays volunteering at the Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM) in Mozambique as part of a corporate volunteer programme

There are trips that change your life, journeys that you take with just one piece of baggage—your heart. The heart, that place where your mind goes to find itself. And there are places you never leave, places that stay with you forever.

Last summer, as a result of the partnership between Caixabank and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), I travelled to the town of Manhiça in Mozambique as a volunteer. The venture began months before the actual trip as I tried to prepare myself as much as possible to be useful, to use the adjective so feared by volunteers.

There are trips that change your life, journeys that you take with just one piece of baggage—your heart. As a result of the partnership between Caixabank and ISGlobal I travelled to Manhiça, Mozambique, as a volunteer

During the period leading up to my departure, I was excited, nervous and very conscious of my ignorance. I was keen to organise every detail in advance to avoid possible complications and spent a lot of time explaining my plan to family and friends to make them understand that the term "holidays" is not always synonymous with sun, spaghetti-strap tops and turning off the alarm clock.

Holidays can also be a time for getting involved in a project, for trying to give something back to society in return for everything we have been given; a time to make a contribution, however small, to a common goal like eradicating poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS. Our contribution may only be a drop in the ocean, but what would the ocean be without all those drops?

And, finally... Africa, that immense continent imbued with its own special aura. Africa ensnares you the minute you arrive, and there is no antidote or cure for this enthrallment, in spite of all the vaccinations you have received.  

I travelled to Manhiça with two colleagues who had been selected to work on the same project.  We knew each other only slightly, but we knew that we were going to share an experience we would never forget. Three volunteers, people from different places with different characteristics and jobs, united by a single goal: to do our utmost to ensure that our stay would be the most helpful and useful to the Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM) and ISGlobal.

The people working at CISM were the most dedicated professionals I have ever encountered.  The Mozambican, Spanish and Portuguese health care personnel work together, creating an environment enriched by the synergies between the two continents. There are no fixed working hours; people work from sunrise to sunset with an intensity that demonstrates their strong commitment and determination to make a success of their projects.

The people working at CISM were the most dedicated professionals I have ever encountered. The Mozambican, Spanish and Portuguese health care personnel work together, creating an environment enriched by the synergies between the two continents

My contribution was to evaluate cost data and produce a framework for handling cost and funding calculations. This involved revising the price catalogue used by the Manhiça Foundation to create budgets for competitive projects. We also drew up a framework agreement for use with suppliers. The work was done in three languages (English, Portuguese and Spanish) and we presented our results to the heads of the different departments. All of them were immensely grateful and I felt really fulfilled.

We also visited a local school in the company of a young doctor. The aim of the visit was to highlight the importance of education, especially for girls, and the empowerment of women. We were there to serve as an example. As Nelson Mandela said, education is the most powerful weapon we have.

The school visit was rewarding because the students were motivated and the teachers appreciated the very "international" visit and the fact that we remembered the children. Every time the children saw us on the street, they came running up to give us hugs.

I saw at first-hand the progress being made in projects focussed on combatting tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS by professionals constantly obliged to juggle in order to stretch a budget that was always too small.

When you see that problem, you quickly realise the fundamental importance of funding research. Why are cuts always made in research and development (R&D)? Over the past decade, significant cuts have been made in R&D funding in Spain, and now I ask myself whether there is anything more important for human beings than investment in health and science? I would like to invite our politicians to visit Manhiça­—as the Queen of Spain did last year—to meet the heroes who work there. And they really are heroes. I have nothing but admiration for them.  

When you see that problem, you quickly realise the fundamental importance of funding research. Why are cuts always made in research and development (R&D)?

Many thanks to Fran and Iñaki, my two comrades in arms, and to the amazing team of research and medical staff who welcomed us with such kindness—Alberto, Olalla, David, Anna, Patricia, Sheila, Sara, to mention but a few members of this impressive group of young people. The traces of those who share a journey never fade.

I have returned to my home town of León, but only in the physical sense. My head and a large part of my heart have stayed on in Mozambique and I know, without doubt, that I will go back. People talk about the Africa bug, a malady that tugs powerfully at your heartstrings when you no longer see Africa’s colourful capulanas or smell its scents or hear its songs sung by "Banda kakana".

You experience an addiction that draws you back. The longing to return and the memory of what you experienced make you laugh and cry at the same time—a nonsensical response or maybe the most sensible one in the world. Who knows? When you return home, the trip seems like a dream, like something that never happened. You feel as if you did not live that dream, but you did! Just remembering it all is painful and calming at the same time. This must be the Africa bug.

Thank you very much for trusting me: the experience has been a real life lesson. There is no journey that does not change something and this one has left its mark in my head and, above all, on my heart.

While much work remains to be done I now know that, thanks to ISGlobal and CISM, it is on the right track.

MUITO OBRIGADA.