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Mozambique’s Food Subsidy Programme: Diolinda’s story

© UNICEF Mozambique / S. Chowdhury
Diolinda, a beneficiary of Mozambique’s Food Subsidy Programme, lives in Gaza, where she is the primary caregiver for her two grandchildren.

GAZA, Mozambique – 21 March 2011 – When I ask Diolinda if I can take a photo of her, her hands immediately go up to her ntuzu; she smiles coyly and says “I would have dressed up in better clothes if I had known…”

Some concerns are universal: the desire to look good for posterity is one. Another is the concern for one’s children, except that in Diolinda’s case, it is no longer her children she worries about, but her grandchildren. Since her daughter and son-in-law passed away in 2000, Diolinda, now 76, has been caring for her grandson, Ricardo (13) and granddaughter Cheka (10). Her pride in their attending school on a regular basis is evident, but so is her anxiety about how to keep them there. She is also worried about Ricardo’s frequent illnesses, though she is quick to point out that “he doesn’t have the same sickness that killed his mother”.

Diolinda is one of over 200,000 beneficiaries of the Mozambican Food Subsidy Programme, or Programa Subsidio de Alimentos (PSA), a cash transfer programme run by the Government and directed towards the elderly and the chronically ill. She receives 150 Meticais per month (approximately five dollars), which she spends on schooling expenses such as books. She also uses some of it to buy food. She is fortunate that her husband constructed a house for her before his death, so she is not burdened with the fear of becoming homeless. She also has a small plot where she grows wheat and vegetables. But, gesturing towards her hip, she is worried about how much longer she can continue to work on it herself. She doesn’t want the children to help her work on the land as “they have to go to school”. And the PSA isn’t large enough for her to hire anyone to help. So for the time being, she soldiers on.

There are an estimated 1.8 million orphans and vulnerable children in Mozambique, children who have lost one or both parents, whose parents may be chronically ill or who may be chronically ill themselves. Many live with their grandparents or other family members, though some also live on their own. With an HIV prevalence rate of 11.5 per cent nationwide, Mozambique continues to deal with a widespread pandemic that has implications for the future of its children. This is further compounded by high poverty rates – one in two adults live below the national poverty line of $0.50 per day, and one in two children are deprived of basic rights.

The Government of Mozambique recognizes these challenges and is currently in the process of designing a national development plan and a National Plan of Action for Children. UNICEF is providing technical assistance in these processes to ensure that ALL poor and marginalised children are at their heart, without losing sight of the fact that orphans and vulnerable children have particular needs, such as psycho-social support to help them deal with the trauma and stress they have been through; alternative care mechanisms, to help place them with foster or adoptive families; and legal support, to ensure their inheritance rights are protected.

Far away from these discussions in Maputo, Diolinda gingerly eases herself out of her chair. We must excuse her, she says, as the children will return from school soon, and she must prepare their lunch. As we watch her hobble across the sandy courtyard, we are impressed with her strength and fortitude. But in a country where the life expectancy is 48, we can’t help but be equally worried about what will happen to Ricardo and Cheka when their grandmother passes away.

For more information, please contact:

Arild Drivdal, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:



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