Field Work stories. Chiara Spatafora in Mozambique to improve the living conditions of workers in mining activities

A scholarship for Erasmus and an imminent transfer to Portugal. Chiara Spatafora, student of the University of Bologna enrolled in the Master's degree in Local and Global Development, had a clear and well-defined project for her near future. Fate, however, decided to mess up the cards and put another possibility on the plate: “I was checking my Erasmus practices when I found myself in front of the Field Work program, an experience of international development cooperation made possible by my university. After reading the call for applications, I immediately gave up on Erasmus to try this other path, certainly different but perfectly in line with the type of career I had chosen."


The travel as a means of knowing you and challenging your limits

Chiara, born and raised in Palermo, has developed a strong interest in political science since she was very young. This passion brought her from Sicily to Forlì, to study International and Diplomatic Sciences. "I chose the University of Bologna for two reasons: for the quality of the University and because in this way I could live alone for the first time in a new city. In fact, I had a very strong desire to challenge myself," says Chiara. A way of seeing and facing life, which still guides her in her choices.

The desire to discover the world and the opportunities offered by the University led Chiara first to Croatia and then overseas, to Argentina. "Going so far has had a big impact on my world view, also making me understand that it was not the diplomatic career that I wanted to pursue." For this reason, immediately after the bachelor's degree, Chiara decided to approach studies on development and the world of international cooperation where, finally, she felt in the right place.

So, once she won the scholarship for the Field Work, the flight for Portugal was replaced by one for Mozambique and Chiara left to support ISCOS Emilia-Romagna in promoting decent work conditions and fair youth employment. In the rural province of Tete, where she was headed, huge reserves of coal were discovered which attracted many foreign investors, with the consequent arrival of multinational mining companies in an area far from prepared to welcome them. In fact, 80% of the area's population lives on agriculture and the local industrial fabric is practically non-existent.

 

Overcome inequalities through professional training

"ISCOS is a union-oriented NGO, it was born from CISL and therefore deals with promoting human rights and combating inequalities through the promotion of fair work conditions in developing countries," explains Chiara. “Therefore, the project I collaborated with aims to train the younger generations to enter the world of work in a prepared and aware way. To do this, ISCOS, which is not based directly in the country, collaborates with two local partners: the provincial vocational training institute and the provincial union."

The main activities of the project in Mozambique involved the provision of professional training courses with union elements, to ensure that not only young people learned a job, but that they were also aware of the laws and their rights. Furthermore, the registration of these workers in the union has strengthened their negotiating power, which is still very limited compared to that of the multinationals.

"I dealt with research on the socio-economic impact of large mining projects in the area, through semi-structured interviews with the beneficiaries of the training courses and the collection of quantitative data. I spent the first two and a half months in Maputo, the capital, working in collaboration with a research center, the Observatory do Meio rural, also a partner in the project. Subsequently, I went to the Province to carry out the practical part of the research, do the interviews, get to know the local partners and monitor the project activities, also moving to different rural communities." The research was then functional for the writing of her master's thesis, focused on the relationship between large investments, rural development and job opportunities in Mozambique, through the case study of a rural population of Tete.


Hospitality, nature and poverty

Mozambique, land of great beauties and contrasts, gave Chiara the opportunity to experience precisely that diversity she was seeking in an adventure like the Field Work programme, so distant from her Italian everyday life. "The initial impact was quite traumatic. The first few days I lived practically alone waiting to move into the house with other roommates, and it was also difficult to understand how to shop, where to go and how to move, "recalls Chiara. For the first time, she experienced what it means to be a white woman in Africa. She also had to learn to bargain, which, in the early days, was not at all good for her. "It was stressful and often, to get out of uncomfortable situations quickly, I replied 'okay, you won, I'm a mulungu (the way to call whites) and I get screwed!'."

Poverty and pollution are two other central aspects that struck the student. "I realized that we, Westerner, often tend to analyze poverty, environmental protection and inequalities from a perspective that is too limited to our social sphere, ignoring how these phenomena are actually different, complex and more directly affected." According to Chiara, only through direct experience can we have a multidimensional vision that can help analyze these aspects, and then then act, avoiding to cause more harm than good.

Instead, the most surprising fact was the hospitality of the locals. “During my stay in Tete I lived with a family and shared days and meals with them. They treated me right away as a daughter, giving me great trust and teaching me to do the same. I was able to hear the stories of those who fought the war of independence and attend a very particular religious function in the village church." These experiences would not have been possible without the generosity of the people she met. “Now, it is precisely this sense of community and kindness that I miss the most. These are moments that have the power to make you remember even people you have seen only once, but who have had that little attention towards you that you can never forget."

During her stay in Africa, Chiara had the opportunity to live in two very different areas of the country: the capital Maputo, developed and welcoming, and the rural Tete. The many students and workers from all over the world who populate Maputo make it a varied and stimulating city, with a lively cultural and intellectual life enhanced by numerous concerts, festivals and artistic exhibitions that allow you to appreciate the history of the country through art. On the contrary, the city of Tete, located on the Zambezi River, does not offer great attractions and is frequented mostly by workers from the mines and industries. “Although the rate of poverty in Tete is high, I really appreciated to live in such a particular context and far from my habits. Furthermore, being rural and unspoiled, the place allowed me to see wonderful natural landscapes and fully enjoy the surrounding nature."


The value of development cooperation

One of the main advantages of participating in the Field Work call is certainly the possibility of having a 'privileged' vision of the world and the role one wants to have in it. “In recent months I have met many Italian and foreign collaborators. I was therefore able to observe and understand the pros and cons of this job, which certainly implies an important personal sacrifice," adds Chiara. “It was an important four months of reflection in this regard, during which I asked myself several times if it was what I really wanted to do. Leaving while you are still a student, with the entire institutional network to protect you, also gives you the opportunity to see things from the outside and be, perhaps, more objective."

In addition to being an undeniable introspective journey, the Field Work program also puts young undergraduates in close contact with a challenging working reality. "I learned to carry out field research and therefore to structure the preparation stages, choose the most suitable methodology, collect sources, interpret data and do interviews," confirms Chiara. “But I also learned a lot about how to manage a cooperation project, from the fundamental relationships with partners to handling the inevitable bureaucracy. I finally put into practice what I studied, while learning the importance of adaptation, problem solving, diligence and perseverance. All aspects that emerge only and exclusively thanks to experience."

Chiara graduated with 110 cum laude at the end of March and continues to collaborate with ISCOS Emilia-Romagna. The international health emergency forced didn't allow her return to Mozambique for a monitoring mission, but she decided to follow the activities remotely. With the hope, of being able to return soon to embrace the friends she left more than 7000 kilometers away.

"There have been many ups and downs, but there is one thing that is worth more than all: seeing the small fruits of your work, such as young people who benefit from professional training that would otherwise be difficult to access. People of my same age, with completely different experiences from mine, with whom I shared the same hopes, dreams and the desire to achieve a professional growth." You then learn to accept frustration too, when a project or an activity fails, nullifying part of the efforts made. However, according to Chiara, "the rewards you receive when you manage to achieve your goals are worth more than any problem. Because that's where the value of cooperation lies: giving and receiving. Coming together, despite the difficulties".