Carla Reinagel: Working with the local community

December 2, 2020

Carla Reinagel set up Equip Mozambique with her husband a few years ago. They first came to Mozambique in 2008, and during their first few years worked for a relief organisation. They realised, after reading the book When Helping Hurts, that the organisation they were working for was one of those that do more harm than good to the local communities they are meant to be supporting. They were disappointed to have been part of the problem, and so decided to go back to the US to re-evaluate, study some more, and work out what they want to do in the future – and how they can help the community they felt very connected to. 

Carla and her husband were determined to go back to Mozambique – they felt it was home – but the second time they wanted to do it differently. They set up Equip Mozambique as a centre for change in their local community. They’ve gone directly to members of the local community and asked them what it is they need. What they see their role to be as, is leadership training and facilitation of those with ideas, local knowledge and the energy to deliver change. They are honest about the fact that a lot of the time they don’t instantly know the solution to the problem, or the best way to tackle it; but they sit down with the people from the community and work it out together. They now have a team of twenty. 

From some of these sit-downs, they’ve developed several programmes that are now running successfully. One of them is a sewing school, which is Carla’s passion project. They have developed this as a way of creating earning opportunities for, especially, widows and single mothers, who are often left unsupported. They focus on deep, long-term, sustainable change for a small group – rather than the shallow support of a larger number of people. They have also set up a library, which has become a community hub, also because it’s well-located near a couple of schools and a university, and which was always full in pre-COVID days. 

Additionally, they now have a very active tech team at Equip Mozambique. Knowing that a high percentage of the population does own a mobile phone, they have invested time into developing a health education app, which helps people understand their health-related problems better. Access to clinics isn’t always easy, and so this app offers highly illustrated tips and first aid treatments: things that can really make a difference quickly. Staying on the topic of health, they are also creating a digital communication tool that will allow hospitals and clinics to have a more centralised referral system – saving both time and resources. Another app they are working on is a basic legal aid resource, that will try to tackle some basic but all-too-common problems with corruption and exploitation. The knowledge of basic rights, as is the case with basic health remedies, has the potential to help a lot of people, quickly and directly. 

Carla admits that it is a little difficult for them to plan long-term, as so much of their work is dependent on the problems and ideas that the local community brings to them. She also admits it isn’t always easy – they have had a serious conflict with a local church that led to a lot of tension in the community, threatening their position on the ground. 

As neither Carla’s nor her husband’s background is in business, she’s found the help of her Y&Y mentors to be invaluable – as learning how to manage a business, build proper business models, and find the right path for the profit-making side of their activity was long overdue. She’s also found the support of other Fellows who are also involved in similar areas, particularly those also working with fashion and textiles and who have similar outputs to her sewing school, to be a unique, and lucky, attribute of this programme. She says that being part of this particular year group, also in the year of the pandemic, has allowed her to find ways of coping with the situation, and to find solutions both in spite of and thanks to what’s going on. 

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