United they stand
© UNICEF Mozambique/2012/Mark Lehn
Raquel left behind her three children and her small stand selling tomatoes in her village to try her luck in the gold mines. At the end of her 12-hour working day, she earned a bucket of soil.
At the age of 40, Raquel worked 12
hours a day under the harsh sun, sifting
the soil for nuggets of gold. Between 5am
and 5pm, she only had a five-minute
lunch break, which she shared with her
fellow prospectors in the gold mine in the
northern Mozambican province of Tete. At
the end of the day, she laid her tired body
down in an improvised tent made of plastic
- I did it to feed my children, says Raquel, a
mother of three, in her thatched one-room
Despite being rich in natural resources,
Tete still is a province of extreme poverty,
with tens of thousands of orphaned or
otherwise vulnerable children, many of
whom would not survive without the social
assistance they are given, which is not
much to begin with.
Raquel left behind her three children and
her small stand selling tomatoes in her
village to try her luck in the gold mines.
She travelled for two days, walking the last
30 kilometres to reach the mine near the
border with Malawi.
At the end of her 12-hour working day, she
earned a bucket of soil. Any gold found in
that container she sold to the mine owners,
for a daily amount that rarely exceeded 100
Meticais, or about 3 dollars.
- When I arrived there, I saw that the work
was hard, recalls Raquel, who is now back
While she was away, her children were left
to fend for themselves. Samuel, 17, earned
a living by helping people cross illegally
into Zimbabwe. The middle child, aged 14,
crosses the border at will. Both left school
to make a living, and have no plans to
return. The youngest, a 13-year old girl, is
the only one interested in studying and has
completed grade 6.
During her mother's absence, she earned
some money as a domestic worker at their
neighbours'. But they felt she was a burden
and kept firing her. In a border town
known for heavy trafficking, this childheaded
household was living precariously.
The entire community became concerned.
To convince Raquel to return home, the
community committee, in coordination
with local social services, did everything
they could to make her aware of the risks
her children were facing, if left alone for
much longer. They managed to trace her and
get her on the phone of a co-worker at the
mine, and the chair of the committee spoke
to Raquel personally, trying to persuade
her to return home. It worked. Once back
home, Raquel and social services worked
together to find a way to make her stay.
Raquel and her eldest son Samuel joined
a rural employment programme to help
supplement their income. But schooling
remains a challenge, the two boys reluctant
to return. But perhaps with time, and with
continued support from social services and
their own community, they will come to
realize the benefit of an education. Life will
probably always be hard for Raquel and her
children, but now at least the children are
protected. And united, they will face life's
daily hardships together.