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Giving Visibility to the “Invisible”: Solidarity at the Heart of Sustainability

Giving Visibility to the “Invisible”: Solidarity at the Heart of Sustainability

Solidarity can be a crucial factor in achieving sustainability in a world where the number of people living on the margins of society is growing. Providing food, education and employment to those in need accelerates socio-economic development. The Port of Maputo provides an example that is worth learning about.

In 2022, with the support of the Port of Maputo (through the Port of Maputo Development Company, MPDC), the Invisibles project was born, with the aim of providing job opportunities and integration into working life for people living on the margins of society, many of whom no longer have any hope of regaining their dignity. Led by MPDC representatives Vanda Pereira and Soraia Abdula, the project has created a set of solutions in various areas of activity that today give prominence to people who were, in fact, invisible to society.

Invisíveis was inspired by another solidarity project, an initiative called Kaya, which in the Tsonga language, spoken in southern Mozambique, means home. The Kaya initiative is part of the Makobo solidarity platform, created by a young Mozambican with the mission of giving comfort to disadvantaged groups. Its organisers went around the streets to offer meals to people in need in Maputo city, especially the homeless.

The initiative was interrupted in 2020 due to the restrictions imposed to stop the covid-19 pandemic. At that critical moment, the MPDC team offered one of its spaces, allowing the initiative to continue while respecting the safety conditions that the pandemic required. On seeing what was being done as part of the Kaya project up close and hearing the stories of the beneficiaries, MPDC officials designed additional forms of support, giving rise to the Invisibles solidarity programme.

More opportunities, new horizons
The beneficiaries of the Kaya programme now have new opportunities to rebuild their lives. Initially, 30 people were integrated into Invisibles. Most of them were street vendors living on the streets of Maputo, including those who had travelled from other provinces in search of work. The first time the MPDC had the opportunity to take part in Mozambique Fashion Week 2022, it presented the project’s members: twelve were given the chance to parade on the catwalk. From being unknown, these beneficiaries became noticed by society in a positive way.

One of the characteristics of the Invisibles project is that it doesn’t just provide urgent help, but mainly new opportunities and perspectives on life

Participation in the fashion show was the starting point for a deeper commitment on the part of MPDC, which decided to offer more support, including psychological counselling to integrate them into the traditional labour market. Thus, two partner companies in Porto offered basic courses at subsidised prices in the areas of refrigeration, electricity, massage and waxing. MPDC financed the cost of the training and provided self-business kits. At the end of the courses, the participants had new perspectives on life. The project also offered a scholarship to the youngest member, who was already educated, while others were hired as trainees by MPDC, beginning a journey of reintegration.

One of the characteristics of the Invisibles project is that it doesn’t just provide urgent help, which ends up being transitory. Above all, it offers new opportunities and perspectives on life, with the aim of restoring dignity to those who have often been forgotten. It is an inspiring testimony of how the community can come together to create real and lasting change. Recognising that MPDC cannot provide jobs or internships for everyone, the project seeks to expand support beyond the sectors in which it has already provided training. Committed to involving other companies and social partners, the idea is for the project to achieve autonomy, becoming sustainable and able to accommodate different groups over time.

Lives transformed
An emotional Yolanda Nevas told E&M how her life has changed. She recalled the days when she lived on the streets, receiving meals through Kaya. Yolanda benefited from training in electricity and refrigeration and MPDC offered her an internship at the Port of Maputo, where she is currently employed, like three other beneficiaries of the project.

“At the time, I was a woman from the street, facing difficulties, but everything changed when I joined this project. It gave me a decent job, but it also taught me to be more responsible, to be my own boss,” she said. The way Yolanda faces each day has changed: “Now I can get up early, go to work and, at the end of the day, come home and stay with the children. It’s a huge transformation. I’ve learnt that I’m capable of doing much more than I imagined. I had no hope of learning so many things and becoming the person I am today,” he revealed.

Carlos Francisco Félix, 43, lived from odd jobs, some of which were very hard. He carried all kinds of goods, stowed sacks of rice in ships’ holds and moved ice on fish ships, an experience he now describes as painful. Today, he works in the electricity sector. “I’ve been an intern at the Port of Maputo for seven months now and I’m very happy with everything that’s happened. It all started with a training opportunity and now I’m able to carry out the tasks assigned by my instructors. I couldn’t have imagined reaching this point in my life,” he said.

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Artur Arlindo Bila, 19, is the youngest member of the Invisibles project. During the pandemic, in 2020, with the school closed, he left Gaza province for Maputo in search of work. Unable to find a job, Artur had to live on the streets, selling packets of fast food and popcorn to support himself. Today he works as a courier for a company, after having gone through the Invisíveis training programme. He says that the opportunity he received was crucial to getting a job, even though he had no identification documents and no address. MPDC made it easier for him to travel back to Gaza to retrieve his lost documents and return to the capital. Artur recognises the importance of education and sought MPDC’s help to return to school. “Taking part in this project changed my life. I stopped being a peddler. I met good people: one of them took me in at home when I had nothing,” he revealed, recognising that his transformation has made life easier and given him hope for a better future.

By Filomena Bande – Photo Mariano Silva

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