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How one widowed grandma traded her way out of poverty

By Lucy Taylor


Woman in a grocery shop in Mozambique | VSO © VSO / Mbuto Carlos Machili

Grandmother Maria Jacinto, 62, is now the breadwinner for her family after losing her husband eight years ago.

Maria Jacinto, 62, always relied on her husband's income from the mines to feed herself and her family. When she became a widow, life was plunged into uncertainty.

With VSO support, she went from widow to breadwinner and turned her family's fortunes around. Our project in Mozambique has supported 297 women like her to improve their incomes.

Through VSO's POPA project in Mozambique,

  • 297 women have been supported to improve their income,
  • 207 women have been trained as HIV and AIDS caregivers
  • 4650 people are more aware of how to stop the spread of HIV

At least 30,000 Mozambicans work in the mines of South Africa. The work is dangerous. Men who work as miners are vulnerable to injuries and fatal accidents. More than one in five (22%) are infected by HIV.

All of this has a big impact on their families. Many women are widowed and young women are forced by circumstance to become breadwinners in spite of having few marketable skills.

Maria's story

That's what happened to Maria Jacinto. In 2009, her HIV+ husband contracted tuberculosis (TB) and died, leaving Maria and their seven children fatherless and cut off from their only reliable source of income.

Older woman sits on a bed in Mozambique | VSO © VSO / Mbuto Carlos Machili

Maria Jacinto, 62, lost her husband to TB eight years ago 

Before, Maria worked as a housewife looking after their home and children in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

But after she was widowed she didn’t know how they would survive. She became dependent on her oldest children for money.

During this period one of her eldest children died, adding to the family's emotional and material hardship.

Buying mobile phone credit airtime in Mozambique | VSO © VSO / Mbuto Carlos Machili

Maria sells mobile phone airtime. She has reinvested her profits in a small grocery shop, which is going from strength to strength.

Working her way out of poverty

Maria was introduced to VSO and its Phoning Out Poverty and AIDS (POPA) project, in partnership with mobile phone company, Mcel

Maria was given a grant of 5,000 South African rand to start her own phone credit business in 2009.

She began to make money - enough to start some small savings - and little by little earned enough to set up a grocery stall.

Small grocery shop with women buying and selling in Mozambique | VSO © VSO / Mbuto Carlos Machili

Maria's popular grocery shop sells fruits, vegetables, fish and staple foods. The income supports her and her whole family.

Maria sells tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, cabbages and potatoes along with other basic foods such as rice and oil. She also sells fish which no other market stall holders sell, making her more popular than anyone else in the area.

Maria has seven children, and six grandchildren. Before, they all lived in a one bedroom house.

But now, Maria and her family live in a biger house, with four bedrooms and a big dining room. She was able to afford the house with the profits of her labours. One daughter is living in Maria’s original house with her own children.

Woman stands in a new concrete house in Mozambique | VSO ©VSO/Mbuto Carlos Machili

Maria shows how much more space she and her family have now they no longer have to share a single bedroom.

Before the POPA project, she didn’t know anything about buying or selling. Before her business, meals were limited, but now she can feed her family with a variety of food.

Maria says she never expected to be a breadwinner. But now she is proud of what she has achieved - and her family is proud of her too.

Three generations of a family in Mozambique | VSO © VSO/Mbuto Carlos Machili

Maria is proud of herself, and so are her daughters and granchildren.

Maria was supported through VSO's Phoning Out Poverty and AIDS project in Mozambique. It supports women in poverty who've been affected by HIV and AIDS to make a better living, while sharing tools and knowledge to stop the spread of the virus once and for all.

Could you support more women like Maria by making a donation?

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