You can see the air in Mozambique today. It's so thick with dust and smoke that breathing is a choking experience — short breaths to avoid the feel and taste of dirt and toxins on the tongue and in the throat, while hair and skin quickly become gritty, sticky. The hot seasonal winds are blowing, mobilizing the dry, red dirt. The smoke comes from the garbage dump — it's stretches for acres and is blazing in some areas, smoldering in others. Where ever there are no actual flames, children pick through the refuse looking for anything of value that’s been missed.
All this is only about a mile or so from the 'nice' part of town where the air is fine because there’s no dirt to blow around and the wind keeps the smoke where the other folks live.
But I've been getting an education in the part of town where you can't breathe properly, where children as young as 8 and 9 are raising their siblings on their own because AIDS has taken their parents. I’ve been visiting Reencontro, a 10 year old organization founded and run by indomitable local women dedicated to helping AIDS orphans survive and get an education. They raise enough funds to pay for the schooling, uniforms and some food for 1,419 kids. They also deliver a weekly supply of basic food to dozens of families that are desperately poor and often very vulnerable because the disease has killed the mother and father or made them too sick to actually be parents.
I went into 'homes' the size of my bathroom where up to 8 people live between walls made of reeds, scraps of wood and bits of tin, completely porous to the rains that are coming but swept clean and neatly prepared for our visit by the 9 year old in charge.
In some homes a grandmother is raising the children, a creased and seamed face, testimony to the grinding poverty, overwhelming sadness and emotional distress of watching grown children die and raising their grandchildren, many of whom are themselves living with the virus.
I have scenes in my head and in my camera that illustrate this extreme poverty, disturbing images like the twisted back and grossly enlarged, deformed penis of an HIV+ 5 year old, or the empty face of a paralyzed father whose 10 year old has become the adult, caring for him and all his other children.
But rather than displaying this pain I will share the images I have that demonstrate the extraordinary beauty of the human spirit in these people, their resilience, their humor despite their circumstances and their gratitude for the gift of a bag of rice, cooking oil and a little maize meal.
If you'd like to help the impoverished families of Mozambique, go to the site for the African Millennium Foundation, www.1amf.org . I promise that every dollar helps and every dollar goes where it’s needed.