The Fallen Angel in the pit of Poverty: Rudi


She walked barefoot and semi-naked through lion territory. She hid in burrows of wild animals to avoid the bullets of ruthless soldiers and dangerous animals. She sacrificed her marriage of many years. And now she lies helpless at the bottom of the pit of social rank, alienated. She struggles to survive and not only to survive, but to support and protect 3 grandchildren.

This is the story of Rudi – a woman of courage, loyalty and determination.

For Rudi, life began on the banks of the Zambezi River in central Mozambique. It was simple then. They lived off the land and food was plentiful with an abundance of fish, crops and coconuts. She married and had 4 children, one of whom died shortly after birth.

But beyond the boundaries of the river district – Marromeu – political tensions were simmering. Soon, a full blown war tainted with guerrilla tactics erupted between Renamo and Frelimo, one that lasted for 16 years, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

The political party Renamo had claimed the area in which she was in. Wisely, Rudi and her husband had sent their children to Beira which was considered a safe-haven. Shortly after, most of her village, including herself and her husband, were captured and taken deep into the African bush where they were held as prisoners in a camp. They were there for 2 months and were fed one spoon of food a day. Young boys were forced to become child soldiers and went into training. The middle-aged prisoners were made to work and to maintain the camp. And the young girls became sex slaves to the Renamo army.

But one night, their luck changed. Frelimo attacked the camp and they had the opportunity to escape. Rudi and her husband chose to take separate paths; one to Beira and one to Chimoio. This way they could avoid both being killed at the same time, which would leave no-one to look after their children.

It took Rudi 5 days of walking through the bush. She was accompanied by a small group of escapees, some of whom were lost while trying to swim across rivers, either taken by crocs or by drowning and sometimes falling prey to lion. Their only food was fish from the rivers that they caught along the way and there only form of clothing was a skimpy ‘garment’ made of woven banana leaves. At night, they slept in the trees to avoid wild animals and by day, they would hide in the shallow burrows made by animals in a desperate attempt to hide from the scouting soldiers.

She made it to Chimoio and soon embarked on the second leg of her journey to Beira, another 5 days on foot.

Rudi survived the dangerous journey and was reunited with her family. For the duration of the war, they lived in Beira and had another 3 children.

16 years later, Rudi and her husband returned to Marromeu. They set up a successful ploughing business and enjoyed the fruits of their work, never going hungry. But their children stayed in Beira. And while life was good in Marromeu, her children’s fate was a different one altogether. All of them died except for one.

The death of her children happened over a number of years. During this traumatic period of her life, Rudi and her husband returned to Beira to help care for the grandchildren. When her first child died of Aids, Rudi was left with 9 grandchildren to take care of – one of them being Lourdes. Rudi’s only hope of survival up until now, including that of Kapesi (2) and Toni (9) rests in the hands of Lourdes – her 17 year old granddaughter.

In 2009, Rudi’s husband left her over a conflict I do not know of. He returned to Marromeu, never to be heard from again and whom strongly expressed that her and the grandchildren are no longer welcome in his life. He has since remarried.

Rudi and her 3 grandchildren moved to Mafambisse where they slowly built their house with sticks and mud sourced from the estate. With no supportive family and with a ‘single woman’s’ status, she is at the bottom of the community social ranks. Her only surviving son who lives in Chimoio has not made contact with her for 2 years and has never offered any form of support, neither financially nor emotionally.

Kapesi’s father is also still alive. Kapesi’s mother died when he was one week old. The father insisted Rudi take the baby and for Kapesi’s first year, he occasionally visited Kapesi and supplied Rudi with formula. After a year, he remarried and stopped all sponsorship. Again, Rudi was deserted along with his very own child and has not been seen since.

To add to her woes, she lost her eye last year due to an insect bite of sorts and it looks to me like a cataract has formed in the other eye.

It’s  been a hard life for Rudi and the 3 remaining children. Especially for Lourdes who has been with Rudi since the beginning. A young life riddled with heartbreak, abandonment and fear and seemingly, an infinitely hopeless situation.

Last week, I found Rudi and Kapesi huddled up together in their little hut, midday. They had both contracted malaria and had no money to treat it. It was lucky that I decided to visit them ‘that’ day because I don’t think they would have survived the sickness without urgent medical attention. It was so glaringly obvious that this little family was in desperate need of ‘change’ or something to happen that would allow them to pick themselves up out of a bottomless pit.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I still can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” – Hellen Keller

I decided that should Lourdes want, I would sponsor her to do a 6 month course with the Young Africa foundation that would equip her with basic skills and the opportunity to open a small business or get her a job.

A few days later, I paid the family another visit. I’d come with vitamins as well as a course of ‘de-worming’ tablets for each of them. I also had plans to ask Lourdes whether she’d be interested in studying again. I never doubted she’d say yes as I knew that she had had to drop out of school for not being able to pay bribe to the teacher during exams and ended up having to drop out of school over a meager 5 met bribe.

I naively thought it would be simple.  But when I offered them all de-worming medicine, Lourdes refused the medicine.

As so often happens in Mozambique, young girls will marry purely for financial security. Marrying for love is often a luxury, experienced by the wealthier or luckier Mozambicans. Marriage has become a form of survival for many young girls and apparently for Lourdes too.

Lourdes got married to a 32 year old man 2 months ago and is 2 months pregnant. The man’s family, however, have not accepted her, mostly because of her low-ranked status in the community and have insisted that no money is spent on her or her own blood family in the way of food, clothing and medication. Yet at the same time she is expected to cook and clean for her new family. She wants to move back into her grandmother’s house but she is uncertain of her baby’s future.

I was stumped. Although Lourdes is still young and able, I was increasingly aware of how vulnerable Rudi and the 2 young children were and how they were dependent on Lourdes to pull them out of this situation. My only other solution was to help raise their status in the community by empowering Lourdes and Rudi with a small business, helping them with an initial capital input to get them started and out of this vicious cycle.

But this ‘solution’ too does not come without its drawbacks. Starting a business and storing ‘stock’ of sorts in their open hut would make them vulnerable to theft. There was also a strong possibility that the community would become jealous, as so often happens when someone begins to rise ‘above’ the rest of them.  And how would Lourdes operate a business while being married to a man whose family refuses to help Rudi and the children? Would Rudi and the children even see any of that income?

UPDATE: Read about Rudi’s new Bean business:

26 replies »

  1. Hi There I have just joined your site and must say that I absolutely love your stories and pictures. They touch a part in my soul. Having lived in Moz for the last 5 years I can relate to so many of your stories and pictures. After reading your rudi story I was wondering if your followers had any help for our young man in Mozambique, Xinvane. His Name is Dino and was our barman in our clubhouse. My husband works at Huletts in Xinavane, the company you worked for in Mafambisse. Tragically he was in a Chapa (taxi) accident on the 10th June 2011. He is lucky to be alive….and I think now is only 26 years old. He has a child of 3 and had a young wife. She stayed for about a year after the accident. He is wheelchair bound and goes weekly to the hospital in Maputo for physio. His wife left him after a year for greener pastures and he thinks his little girl is in South Africa somewhere with family of hers…..
    For the last three years there have been a few of us who have helped support him and give him basics like nappies so that he doesn’t land in an uncomfortable position’and to give him a little dignity. We have helped him start a little business in maputo where he can make music cds to sell to help with his support. He has to pay the physio workers in the hospital just to get better treatment…………..nothing is for free and this is supposed to be free for the people……But as expats we dont know for how much longer we will be here and what will happen to him when the day comes that we have to leave. He has been trying for the last 2 years to get the doctors to look at his knee. I suspect it was broken at the time of the accident and not dealt with at the time. He is in pain all the time and has now just been told that he has to wait until next year……..and all they do is give pills for pain. If this accident had happened in a first world country, perhaps Dino would be walking today, Perhaps he would still be married and have his little girl Clarina with him…..perhaps?
    So if Dino’s story can go to all your followers perhaps there is someone out there who can help this young man…………all he wants is proper information from the doctors and some answers. Perhaps Dino’s angel of hope is out there. A doctor who can help – please I just want to share Dino’s story. He has taught me so much……courage, bravery, persistance, humility and hope………..we take it all for granted

    • Hi Alyson, thank you for sharing Dino’s story with us. Living in Mozambique is a humbling experience for so many of us when we meet people like Dino and Rudi and learn about the hardships they must endure. For most of us, people like Dino are merely a statistic, until you meet them. Their stories are often shocking and soon prompt the question; Do you get involved and do you help them? And if so, how can you best help them.

      Money is not always the answer, sometimes it’s in the way of information or simply listening. In Dino’s case, it sounds like he needs a specialist and a long term business plan for a young crippled man in Maputo.

      I found a long term solution for Rudi by publishing her story. I have been blown away by the response. People really do care. In my case, by publishing the story, it reached a missionary who suggested I get in touch with a missionary in my area. I did and they put me in touch with an organisation that cares for the elderly and abandoned people. I just needed a starting point and from there the ball got rolling. Are there any NGO’s or missionaries in your area who could perhaps point you in the right direction?

      Maybe Dino will be lucky in that someone reading this blog post will have an idea or an answer or even a little starting point..

      And well done Alyson for getting involved. I hope will all my heart this young man gets the help he needs 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. It brings me to a quick reality of no matter my woes here in the US… it is nothing compared to others and I am truly blessed. Has there been any change since this post?

    • Hi there – I helped start a bean business and have written a blog post on it.

      I have also put Lourdes through a hair dressing course at the Young Africa college.

      Rudi’s situation seems to be up and down. She gets malaria often even though she has a mosquito net. It’s been a difficult few months while Lourdes has been studying at college. But she has just finished her course and will be reunited with Rudi and will provide much of the support Rudi needs. I will be doing another blog in the near future with a full update on this families situation. Thank you for asking 🙂

  3. Every December, I receive a catalog from the Heifer Project where people can contribute money towards buying animals (chickens, geese, llama, water buffalo – depending on climate and culture) for desperately poor families. The eggs and /or milk from the animals increase the family’s nutrition and the young ones are passed on to other community members. Would this little family benefit from having some chickens or a goat or two for eggs and milk? They’d need a bit of additional infrastructure to keep the animals safe…The older boy could be trained and become responsible for the animals so that Rudi isn’t over burdenend.

  4. Wow, a heart-breaker. The human spirit is something we always seem to under-estimate though, so I’m thinking things will turn out okay. Keep up the good deeds. I may be returning to Africa sooner than I thought. Poignant shots.

  5. Hey there, what simple services does the community need? Maybe help them set up a vegie seedling nursery and sell the seedlings, you will need some water poles and some shade cloth and old oil tins for seedling containers… or get her a hoe and a knapsac and some chemical and she can charge for weeding and fertilizing community gardens… if I come across any else will give you a shout… Good Luck my friend 😉

    • thanks Ryan 🙂 It’s a bit complicated – as she is really old and a little frail. So I am going to help start up a small stall. Having a meeting with her and her grand daughter next week to throw some ideas around. The business must be something they are familiar with and confident with as I want them to be as independent from me as possible.

  6. My moms lil farm helper makes cupcakes(apparently the un-iced ones are better) that she sells, my mom buys the ingredients and she bakes them giving my mom a small fee for the use of the kitchen….I also know at the nursery the scones go down a treat – I think R12 for six or something, With your chefing skills it might be and idea….. The enthnic beads – necklaces and bracelets are also awesome – where ever I go I always buy one…..I think your farm stall fresh veggies idea is super specially if they can make enough for you, themselves and a few extra to sell……

    Good Luck
    Rudi I hope the world takes a turn and you are blessed with the richest of rich blessings….

    Lotsa love

    • Thank-you Jessica for your support 🙂 For the time being I have got them growing herbs and lettuce for my household which I will buy off them when ready. So that’s a start! I’m hoping to meet Rudi and Lourdes next week to find out how I can help them start a business and what type of business. This situation is unfortunately so common in these parts and the widows and single women, I think, have it the hardest of all. I will definitely keep you updated and let you know if I start up any projects. There are so many possibilities.

    • Thank you! I’m sure Rudi is so grateful to you. What a blessing that there are people like you in the world. 🙂

      Keep us posted!

    • Thank-you for the offer of help 🙂 I had hoped to get Lourdes into Young Africa which would teach her a skill of sorts to earn money. But now that she is 2 months pregnant – and the course takes 6 months – I’m going to rather help Lourdes start a small business by providing the initial capital on loan. I’m hoping to have a meeting with her next week to brainstorm some ideas on what type of business her and Rudi would like to start. I’m also going to sign the family up with social services that will mean Rudi and family will be provided with a small amount of money each month by the state and have free access to hospitals – better than nothing at least! I will keep you updated. Thanks for your support.