Turning an impossible situation around
Rute, from Maputo, Mozambique, found herself in an impossible situation. Her miner husband died after returning home from working in South Africa. She was pregnant, widowed, and her family had no breadwinner. Things became worse once she discovered she was HIV positive and became too ill to work herself. But, after training from AMIMO — a VSO supported project that works with migrant miners and their families - she now has a more positive outlook.
Pregnant and widowed
Seven months pregnant and with six children to feed, Rute felt overwhelmed when her husband died 15 years ago.
He was working the mines in South Africa however the work was tiring and painful. His feet bore wounds from his boots, so he was relegated to office work which paid significantly less. He returned to Mozambique in 1999, before passing away from an unknown illness.
With no steady income, she wasn’t sure how the family would cope. To make matters worse, a few years ago she discovered she was HIV positive.
She explains, “Life was hard. I was falling sick all the time whilst my husband was in hospital. Afterwards, my neighbours encouraged me to get tested. A couple of hospitals tested me as HIV negative, but I kept falling ill. I persisted until I found a specific doctor who had the right equipment to test me, and it showed I was positive for HIV.”
Life was hard. I was falling sick all the time whilst my husband was in hospital.
Maid in Maputo
Despite her health condition, Rute, now 50, still needed to make money. She took up various positions as a maid doing domestic work until she became too unwell to continue. In spite of these challenges, she says, she never stopped finding a way to ensure her children stayed in school.
Two years ago, two of her friends mentioned the support they got from AMIMO, a VSO-supported project that supports migrant miners and their families. Rute decided to take part in their income-generating workshops which aim to equip mining widows with business skills to help lift them out of poverty.
She says, “We learnt to control our business, how to account for what is bought and sold, and how to manage my profits and capital. They also gave me some financial support so that I could put products in my shop.”
Life has changed
Now a grandmother of five young children, Rute runs a successful small ‘barraca’ [shop] from the front of her house in a suburb of Maputo, where she sells an array of vegetables and cooking products.
AMIMO also partnered with Mcel, Mozambique’s mobile phone provider. They provide training and also some discounted mobile airtime that the widows can sell at a profit. It’s helped Rute to stand out from the other vendors.
The steady flow of cash is a huge support, and she can manage the shop even when her health becomes problematic. Rute explains with a big smile, “I’ve been able to buy a freezer, and a computer with the profits and the savings I can make. I can buy and eat what I want for my family. I’m working hard in order to have these things. Life has changed.
“Projects like this are so welcome. Empowerment is so important, even some of the women who have a man at home can’t achieve some of the things that we widows have been able to achieve. I’ll teach my daughters some of these lessons, like managing their money. I hope they will all have a business.”