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Mozambique struggles with communication issues

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Many lives could have been saved during devastating floods if there were radios to warn people the dams had broken, says Legina Mabunda.

June 13, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) — Bishop Joao Somane Machado and his staff know good communication saves lives.

In the year 2000, floods killed thousands of people in one of the greatest tragedies in the country’s history. Many lives could have been saved if people had been warned that the waters were rising.

“I know you people from America cannot imagine what happened here in 2000,” said Legina Mabunda, widow of a retired pastor. With tears running down her checks, she said, “When that storm came, if they had had radios, we could have told people to run away — the dams have broken. Many would not have died. Instead, thousands died.”

On a daily basis, better communication would enable people to get life-saving information about public health issues and other concerns, said Machado, who leads the United Methodist Church in Mozambique.

Machado and Mabunda were part of a group meeting with members of United Methodist Communications on behalf of the Central Conference Communications Initiative to hear about the needs and challenges in Mozambique.

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Due to an unreliable postal service, people in Mozambique give mail to bus drivers to deliver.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between United Methodist Communications and the bishops of the central conferences — regional units of the United Methodist Church in Africa, Asia and Europe. The 2004 General Conference approved the plan, which calls for United Methodist Communications to identify new partnerships or assist with established partnerships among United Methodists in Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States.

Barbara Nissen and Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, staff with United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn., asked church leaders to discuss what methods of communication would be most effective in Mozambique.

Meetings were held in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2005, followed by consultations with conferences in Europe and Asia this year.

Last July, 13 annual conference communicators representing nine African countries — including Mozambique — held a two-day consultation at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, to identify communication challenges and solutions. The findings from that consultation were used to develop a two-week course of study set for June 15-30 at the school. Thirty-one representatives from 17 African countries will gather to build their skills as Christian communicators and help build a global network for the United Methodist Church.

Transportation challenges

Mozambique is twice the size of California and borders six countries. The north is much poorer than the south, Machado says, and communication is difficult because of the distance.

“Sometimes when I have to get a message to the north, I go to the airport and see if someone is going that way that can deliver a letter to a district superintendent,” he said.

Many people don’t know how to read or write in the north, and there are many languages, so radio makes sense there, he said. Newspapers would reach people in the south.

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Bishop Joao Somane Machado (left) and Antonio Wilson discuss the communication challenges that face the church in Mozambique.

“The church is growing in the north much faster,” he said. The people need Christian education and information about public health.

“People bathe and wash in water and then use same water to cook rice; they need to be taught not to do this,” he said. “Fruit is not given to children because it is thought to be bad. There is challenging work in the north.”

Communication and education could save lives in a country where more than 500 people are infected with HIV/AIDs every day and 4,000 children died of malaria in 2004.

Needs and solutions

Mozambique church leaders agreed the most successful way to communicate is through local pastors. “If we could get one newsletter to each district, we would be doing good,” said Antonio Wilson, communications director.

“We have much to do but few things to work with,” he said. A publishing house in Cambine was burned during the civil war, shutting down communication, he said.

The communications department has one computer, one communicator and zero funds, he added.

Mudambanuki with United Methodist Communications said the hope is to establish a communication center in the bishop’s office with all the necessary equipment, including a camera, camcorder, computer and printer. The Foundation for United Methodist Communications is raising funds to establish conference communication centers in Africa. The foundation supports United Methodist Communications in its mission to tell the stories of the church and its people.

“The people of Mozambique need to tell their story in their own voice and share it with the rest of United Methodist Church throughout the world,” Mudambanuki said.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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