Helena’s fruits of resilience
Discover the inspiring story of one of the champions of WFP’s school feeding programmes in Mozambique. We met her during a field mission and will never be able to forget her endurance, strength and courage.
Women have such low status in Mozambique society that one could fill a book with heart-breaking examples of discrimination, abuse and extreme poverty. Many of them are conditioned to think they are worthless, are fed less than their brothers and kept home from school to work in the fields or assist with chores. A large number are forced to marry while still children and threatened with death when they give birth.
Helena Simone Manyonya was no exception, living with her husband and eight children in a simple hut in Changara, in the Tete district of North East Mozambique.
That is until the day she decided she would try to challenge all this and fight for new opportunities that could lift her family out of poverty. She was determined not to surrender. She was strong and desperate and extremely focused. On that day she reached out to other women in her village, convinced them to join efforts, and in 2004 they founded FUMACA, the Associação Futuras Mulheres de Caratas (Future Women of Caratas Farmers' Association). Five hectares of land were allocated to the Association’s use to grow beans and a fee of 10 meticais has been collected weekly from every member since then to build a solidarity fund for any emergencies.
“At that time we were only 12 women, and we had nearly nothing. Gradually we worked our way up together. We used to work in our neighbours’ fields in return for the use of their water pumps. Then we realised that we had saved enough money to buy a water pump for ourselves.”
The association became recognised for its energy and exceptional reliability over time, receiving technical training from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Purchase from Africans for Africa and the Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen its members’ capacities and skills.
“We learnt how to select the seeds, and how to calculate the quantity needed. We discovered that we were buying more seeds than was actually necessary and that this was a waste of money and time because the plants need space to grow properly. Now our tomatoes and our onions are better. We also learnt a lot about composting and organic fertilisation.”
Then the World Food Programme (WFP) stepped in with training in collective marketing, access to formal markets and post-harvest handling to reduce crop losses.
FUMACA has recently started supplying schools with pulses and fresh vegetables that will be used for children’s daily meals as part of the WFP’s school feeding programmes in the country.
“The new connection with the schools is a great improvement, because now we know in advance that what we produce will be sold, for sure. The link with the schools also changed our customs. For instance, it forced us to change what we planted. We had nearly stopped growing carrots because nobody bought them. Now we sell them to the schools because they ask for them.”
Every Monday the beans and fresh vegetable are dispatched to the schools, which are 10-15 km away from the fields. Helena and the other women use public transport to reach their destinations.
“It’s the only thing that still needs to be fixed, transport. Chapas (public transport) are often late, which means that the produce arrives at school late and the meal is served late…”.
When asked to identify the secret to her new life, Helena does not hesitate a second:
“It’s all about planning”, she says. “Stick to the plan and try to contain any disruption caused by the weather or insects. Anticipate problems, react quickly and together to the challenges. Always be ready for what the future brings”.