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Lee Sinjie’s humanitarian trip to Mozambique

World Vision ambassador Angelica Lee Sinjie shares her experiences during a humanitarian trip to Mozambique in Africa.

One of the top five poorest countries in the world, Mozambique is poverty-stricken

ON the day I left Hong Kong, I was very sick. Kevin Chiu, CEO of World Vision Hong Kong, was worried about me and gave me some medication for my cold, during the flight. The medication must have made me drowsy and after a while, I dozed off.

I have visited many poverty-stricken countries as part of World Vision’s programme. The numerous trips have proven to be enlightening and enriching. The abject poverty I see around me has made me more determined to do my bit to help the needy.

On this trip, I brought my nephew, Han Han, along with me. I have watched Han Han grow up and treat him like my own son. I am reminded of how my grandmother used to take me along on her visits to underprivileged families in the villages, when I was a kid. I felt it was time for Han Han, 13, to experience the same.

When I first mentioned the trip to Han Han, it didn’t take him long to decide to come along. It was going to be an eight-day visit to Africa. The 20-hour flight, bumpy ride to remote villages, and scorching sun did not deter Han Han.

Upon landing at the South African airport, we took the connecting flight to Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Once there, we visited the local headquarters of World Vision before we took a three-hour car ride and arrived at a small, remote town in the evening. We checked into a hotel for the night.

After dinner, I popped in a couple more pills for my cold, and went to bed early to prepare myself for the following day’s visit to six-year-old Celeste. I told Han Han we would be leaving at 4am the next day, and he promptly went to bed.

The next morning, I felt better after a good night’s rest. We were well on our way to visit Celeste before dawn broke.

Celeste (left) and Lee Sinjie sharing a joyful moment together

Celeste’s parents had succumbed to illness, leaving her under the care of her 70-year-old grandmother. The small hut they lived in was made of mud and hay. Celeste’s father built it before he died.

I walked towards the house, and knocked on the wooden door. The door opened slowly.

It was dark inside as they had no electricity. Celeste was sleeping on a straw mat spread out on the red-clay floor. She rubbed her eyes as she sat up. Her grandmother was all smiles when she saw us.

Celeste stared at me with her big innocent eyes. She must have wondered whether she was still dreaming. I was drawn to her instantly.

Celeste led the way as we walked down a sandy road to a well constructed by World Vision. It is more than half an hour each way, and Celeste makes three trips to the well daily to fetch water for domestic use.

Celeste used all the strength in her tiny body to draw up water from the well. I joined her and filled a big bucket with water from the well. The locals who were queueing for their turn, had a good laugh when they saw me filling up the bucket in an awkward manner.

Under the fierce sun, Celeste carried the heavy bucket of water on her head as she walked barefooted on the hot sand.

What strong legs and arms she had, I thought to myself as I trailed behind her.

Lee Sinjie (left) trails after Celeste as the little girl leads the way

My heart ached when I thought of her plight. She had lost both parents before she was even old enough to talk. Her aging grandmother can barely afford to buy her a set of school uniform. The girl eats cassava with bitter leaves harvested by her grandmother, and helps gather mangoes and cashew nuts from the ground. When there is a drought, every meal is uncertain and many a time, she goes to bed hungry.

Celeste stopped and turned around to check on me. I was trying to balance the heavy bucket on my head. Sweat was streaming down my back. She waited until I caught up with her. We walked on in silence, united by a bond that transcends words.

After a delightful lunch, we drove to the graveyard where Celeste’s parents were laid to rest. We offered a prayer and some flowers. With the help of a translator, I chatted with Celeste’s grandmother. While we were chatting, Celeste sat down at my foot, quietly following our conversation as she played with my fingers. I stroked her cheek and looked into her eyes which mirrored the innocence of the young.

Her grandmother shared her fears with me. She expressed her concern for Celeste. Who would look after the child when she is gone?

I decided to help raise Celeste by sponsoring her. She is my 21st sponsored child. After spending several hours with her, my heart began to ache when it was time for me to leave.

I used hand gestures to tell Celeste that we had to leave. The smile on her face vanished, and she gripped my hand as we walked towards the car. Suddenly, with a loud cry, she hugged me and burst into tears. I could not hold back my tears, and cried as I hugged her.

However, I left her comforted by the assurance that Celeste was under the World Vision Child Sponsorship Programme. She would be in good hands as the World Vision staff would visit her and look into her needs.

A report of her progress and health will be sent to me every year. I can still communicate with Celeste through letters to ensure that she receives a proper education and grows up healthy.

Mozambique is among the top five poorest countries in the world. After gaining independence from Portugal, the country was impoverished by years of civil war. There are signs of prosperity in the capital city where beautiful Portuguese-style buildings stand as a reminder of the country’s colonial past.

But once you leave the city, tracts of uncultivated land stretch as far as the eye can see. Small huts dot the sparse landscape. We were told the government lacked funds to cultivate the land for agricultural purposes. As much as 20% of the population has contracted HIV/AIDS, causing many children like Celeste to be orphaned.

I visited two sisters. When the older girl was six, her father died and she had to look after her critically ill mother and her three-year-old sister. After six years, their mother passed away, leaving the two sisters to fend for themselves.

The girls are 16 and 13 now. They sleep on a straw mat in their bare hut. When it rains, the roof leaks badly. The girls survive on cassava given by kind neighbours.

Since its establishment in 1950, World Vision has been helping impoverished communities in many corners of the earth. World Vision has initiated 38 projects in Mozambique, benefiting 2,000 to 4,000 people in each community. The projects stretch over a period of 10 to 15 years.

World Vision built wells in remote villages to provide access to drinking water for destitute communities.

They built schools for the children so that they did not have to study in huts with roofs that could be lifted by strong winds. Medical centres were set up to make medical treatment accessible to the sick. Pregnant women were spared from having to trek long distances to get to a hospital. Villagers were given opportunities to generate income to support their families. Local communities were being educated about HIV/AIDS.

Han Han did not complain throughout the trip. He endured the hot weather and adapted well to the busy schedule. He even played football with the village kids and picked mangoes with them.

The local children and Han Han (right) bonded instantly

On the last day of our trip, Han Han decided to sponsor a six-year-old orphan with his own pocket money.

This trip was our first together. I am glad we were able to share this invaluable experience which nurtured our understanding of humanity.

As we walked forward, I saw pain, sorrow and helplessness, but I also saw empathy, hope and a love that transcends barriers. When I spread my arms to embrace these innocent children and felt the warmth of their love and bodies, I realised what happiness means. – Angelica Lee Sinjie

Map: Mozambique, Africa