Sarah Vaill is a program officer for the Global Fund for Women, a Palo Alto, California-based organization — run by women, for women — that grants money to groups around the world that “demonstrate a commitment to the promotion of women’s full participation in society, a commitment to women’s empowerment, or the promotion or defense of female human rights.” It’s the only such organization in the United States, and one of only four in the world, providing flexible and timely grants “on the basis of principles — and feminist values.”
Vaill recently traveled to Mozambique, a country that she honestly describes as “in transition,” and recollects some of the striking images and remarkable people she encountered. When she first landed in Maputo, the capital, she noticed that all of the important buildings were constructed in the 1970s, when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony. In the two-plus decades since independence, virtually nothing new has been built. She calls it “the stamp of time.” When she crossed over into Zimbabwe, she says, the capital has sidewalks, paved roads, and modern bank buildings. And when she visited Nairobi, she saw an even more modern city.
For Vaill, the most striking aspect of her journey was the transition from Maputo to the shattered northern countryside. There is an “incredible disconnect” in the country, she says. But one constant she found was the hope and optimism and faith in the women of this nation.
For example, women’s organizations in places like Beira persevere. One group named Amai Amumsanye, which means “one woman helps another,” has spent years helping women in the impoverished, war-ravaged northern corridor between Beira and Chimoio, helping other women make bricks, weave cane furniture, and craft pottery. Their philosophy is rooted in African tradition: “when one gives, one also receives” — a motto which the Fund itself could easily use.
They met the largest number of women in rural Chamoio, including a group of single mothers who had become prostitutes in order to support their families. Most of them becoming infected with HIV. The women’s group subsequently launched an education campaign for other women so that they would know how to say “no,” how to use condoms, how to find other resources. Vaill will never forget these women. “That was so inspiring for me to see,” she says, “because that’s exactly the kind of education and resources that needs to be out there in the northern provinces that is not going to be conceived of, in the correct way, in the capital.”
Vaill sees a real solidarity between these women and says that she “couldn’t have felt and learned what I’ve learned… without having come to Mozambique.” Such trips have given her an entirely different take on world hierarchies, the effects of colonialism, and the resultant subjugation of nations — and women.
Vaill has a saying that has guided her for a long time: “The eyes that don’t see is the heart that doesn’t feel.” Her solid feminist education at Duke made her aware of places like Mozambique. But she had to take the actual journey and see the reality in order to feel it. True to the Fund’s motto, Vaill traveled to the end of the road and then she began walking. And it was quite a walk indeed.