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Fátima and Alfredo

Fátima (center) with women from other communities who have joined the Koti Island Association

Two months ago, Fátima Apacur bid farewell to the second-youngest of her twelve children. The girl, not yet 13, was leaving home in pursuit of something that is not available on the island of Quelelene where Fátima and her family live: a sixth grade education.

Fátima, who has spent her entire life on the Primeiras & Segundas archipelago off the coast of northern Mozambique, never had a chance to go to school. She is unable to read or write and speaks only the local language, Koti. Nevertheless, she is fiercely committed to her children’s education and has insisted on sending each one to school despite the cost. In a province where only 12% of youth complete primary school, this commitment is particularly rare.

Like most of the islanders, Fátima her husband, Alfredo Atumane Mucissiba, struggle to make ends meet. By prioritizing their children’s education, they have taken on additional costs such as school fees and basic living expenses for their teenaged children studying on the mainland. This means that they cannot simply rely on subsistence farming and fishing – they need a cash income as well. So Fátima divides her time between working on the family’s machamba (farm plot) and cooking rice to sell to local fishermen. For one serving of rice, she charges five metecais (about 18 cents), which is nearly what it costs her to prepare it. Alfredo is a carpenter by trade, but he spends very little time practicing his craft these days because few people have enough money to buy wood or commission any projects. Instead, he can usually be found down on the beach among hundreds of his fellow islanders whose lives increasingly depend on the sea’s already overtaxed fisheries. Not having his own boat or net, Alfredo joins other men and boys working in teams and earns a few coins or a portion of the catch – though only if they catch enough to share.

In 2002, hoping to make their financial challenges a bit more manageable, Fátima and Alfredo joined some of their neighbors in forming a poupança, a community savings association. The group meets once a week and each person contributes whatever extra money he or she has. When members need a loan, they can borrow from the poupança and pay it back with a modest 10% fee. At the end of each year, members are allowed to take back whatever they have individually put in. Alfredo, who has a fourth grade education and is therefore one of the few in the association with sufficient literary and math skills to keep track of the association’s transactions, serves as the secretary and treasurer – though he explains that the money box itself stays in the house of the association’s president and that the keys to the box are kept by two other officers.

photo by Rachel Mason

Alfredo taking notes in the January training

Being part of the poupança has made it easier for Fátima and Alfredo to keep their children in school. But it has had another consequence as well – it has also increased their engagement with their community. When they heard over the radio that a delegation from the CARE-WWF Primeiras & Segundas Project was coming to a nearby island to work with local leaders in forming an umbrella association to unite four disparate communities, they decided to attend as representatives of their savings association. As the trainings began in late January, Alfredo pulled out a notebook and a pen and diligently took notes so that he and Fátima could share what they learned with others in their Quelelene poupança. After the first day of trainings, the couple was cautiously optimistic about the future. The new association, dubbed the Forum of the Koti Islands, is now in the process of being legalized, which will enable them to open a bank account in the name of the association and potentially give them access to district investment funds.

And how will this new development affect Fátima and her family? She and Alfredo hesitate and say that it is still too soon to make any predictions. But with one more daughter at home looking forward to secondary school in another two years, they are determined to make the most of any opportunity.

Written by Rachel Mason

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