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12/21/15 - "Taking the First Step" by Angela Ray

Taking the First Step

by Angela Ray

Angela Ray received an ARC research grant in Fall 2014 for her project entitled "Standard of Living & Quality of Life among Cashew Farmers and Factory Workers in Rural Mozambique".

On July 18th, 2015 I boarded a plane that would in 2 days take me to Africa. This is something that I never imagined I would do. When my professor, Dr. Lee Ann DeReus, asked my class if anyone was interested in assisting her with research in Mozambique, I immediately hoped that no one else would be intrigued because I wanted that experience. Months of research on the lives of individuals in Mozambique did not prepare me for the real life education I would get from actual Mozambiqueans.  Once in Africa we were picked up by the family that would be hosting us for two weeks; Don and Terri Larson. They explained safety precautions to us on our first day; not going out alone, not going out at night, and keeping our passports on us at all times; just to name a few. One of the reasons for the necessity of these safety rules was that we were white Americans in a country we had never visited before. The idea of that was foreign to me, because I had never been in a position where being white was a reason for caution. In this area being an outsider was a reason to be careful. Throughout my trip though, I never once experienced any disrespect. I abided by their cultural rules in regards to attire; long skirts, loose fitting clothing, and learned as much of their language as I could in order to thank them for helping with our research.

My team consisted of my professor, another Penn State student, Don and Terri and three interpreters; Chico, Benito, and Arlendo and myself. We used a 25 question questionnaire to ask the individuals, in three neighboring villages of Mozambique, to gain a better understanding of their standard of living. I was incredibly fascinated by the fact that not everyone said the same thing, but their core values were very similar. Every family that we talked to enforced the need for education in their lives and in the lives of their children. Hearing this day after day, family after family, made my heart ache. In the United States, more specifically in Pennsylvania, and in Altoona we have people who complain about the obligation to attend school, while in Mozambique parents would give anything for their children to have that privilege. People also requested assistance in obtaining more hospitals. Some villages had a small building they considered a hospital, but only had certain abilities. Others had to travel hours to get to a hospital if they needed one. These individuals were under the impression that we could fix these issues for them, and on numerous occasions did people say that us being there gave them hope that life could get better for them. They felt that their lives would improve. I went to bed every night wondering how I could make things better; how I could make a difference. I wanted so badly to give these citizens a school, a hospital, and hope that one day all of their troubles would dissipate. I did not have this ability; not yet.

It is difficult to hear about the struggles people are facing in other countries, but it is heart breaking to see it. My hope is to return to Mozambique one day, to do the study again, and see that life has gotten better for them. It’s also my hope to do something to assist in this betterment. I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel to Mozambique and meet the individuals that I did in those two weeks. This was an incredibly humbling experience for me and changed my way of thinking entirely. I met numerous people who offered me priceless thoughts and questions throughout this journey. One particular elderly woman I met throughout our interviews asked me a question that I had no idea how to answer. She asked “why do we, as Mozambiqueans, have to live this way? Going to bed hungry without food.” I wondered this myself. The only response I could offer was my thanks for her time and the reassurance that the information she provided would help to make life better in the future. I wanted to give her a more definite, concrete answer but I did not have one.

On the last day of our research collection I met a woman with four children who was pregnant with her fifth. She just recently discovered that she was HIV + and her husband left her for another woman. She was peeling cashews from a tree for their dinner that night. My translator, Chico, handled the situation full of ease and empathy. He reassured her that she was not alone in her struggles and that HIV was not a death sentence; she did have reason to continue living. We gave her the food that we had on us and told her we would pray for her and her family. I think about them often and continue to pray for their safety.

I am so thankful for having the privilege to travel to Mozambique and meet the numerous citizens that I did. This experience changed me as an individual, a woman, and an advocate. I am now able to educate others about the conditions these citizens are living in and the services they do not have access to. I am able to appreciate the privileges I have as a woman in the united state, but continue to fight for more. I am grateful for the education I receive, but am encouraging others to be as grateful and am every day wondering what more I can do for the women, men, children and families in Mozambique. I believe that education is one of the most important aspects of life that can be offered to people. My hope is to educate as many people in the United States about the individuals in Mozambique as possible. I honestly believe that ignorance is not bliss and we as Americans need to be aware of what’s going on in other countries because we have the ability to help, in one way or another. Talking about these issues is the first step. I’m thankful that this opportunity allowed me to take mine.

Individuals who assisted with my research.

Individuals who assisted with my research.

A bag of rice that a woman and her husband gave myself and my interpreter, Chico, for coming to see them.

A bag of rice that a woman and her husband gave myself and my interpreter, Chico, for coming to see them.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

One of the medical centers that were in a village we visited.

One of the medical centers that were in a village we visited.