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Mozambique's answer to Slumdog Millionaire

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High energy dancing - Mozambique style.
High energy dancing - Mozambique style.

I spent Saturday afternoon with my family visiting a dance group that has been established in Mafalala bairro of Maputo. The bairro is an area of tightly packed shacks and houses on the road towards Maputo airport. The living conditions are better than those portrayed in 'Slumdog Millionaire' but the levels of poverty are similar. To access the bairro we had to drive down a storm drain, fortunately at this time of year it was dry and relatively clean but I would imagine it presents a real health hazard for the adjoining houses in heavy rains.

The level of unemployment amongst young people in many of the bairros near central Maputo is high. Local communities have become increasingly concerned with rising levels of delinquency and with increasing levels of alcohol and drug abuse. The Machaka Association was founded in 2000 to provide a sense of community for young people through music and dance and to tackle some of these social problems. There are currently 40 young people aged between 12 and 16 who actively participate in the youth club and performances the group put on.

Stilt walkers drawing in the crowds
Stilt walkers drawing in the crowds

We couldn't find the venue for the performance at first - a young lad, smelling heavily of alcohol at 2pm in the afternoon, and a prime example of the group of people Machaka is trying to reach, had to show us the way. The performance was held at the bairro primary school. We had to wait a few minutes before the dance group arrived, but the group made an impressive entrance, the sound of drums filled the air and stilt walkers lead led the crowd in to the school yard.

Henrique Balate from Machaka Association
Henrique Balate from Machaka Association

I spoke to Henrique Balate, pictured here, who runs Machaka, and who gave me some of the background to the organisation. In addition to developing a youth centre, the group conducts workshops, holds debates as well as holding performances and dance.

Art against violence
Art against violence

The performers at this event were sporting tee shirts emblazoned with ‘art against violence' and distributing pamphlets against domestic violence, which is a significant problem in Mozambique.

The dance group in full swing

The performance itself consisted of a group of young men, dressed in jackets and white gloves, singing powerfully, with a well choreographed dance routine. It was this image, which reminded me of the dance scenes from Slumdog Millionaire. Not quite the same cast of thousands, but young people from the bairro, singing and dancing and demonstrating the sort of talent that perhaps, given different circumstances might have translated in to fame and fortune. The young people in the Machaka Association have a huge amount of energy and talent, and demonstrate what can be achieved if young people are given the right opportunities.

The two groups of male and female dancers who also performed were equally impressive and high energy. I broke in to a sweat just watching. My son was more interested in playing with the children and had a good time rampaging around the school yard. It is days like this that remind me why development work is so important, and how much can be achieved with relatively modest support.

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  1. Comment by Emilia Martins posted on

    Dear Neil
    I mozambican and im doing my master in Belgium, Antwerpen.
    I found your article very interesting because you focus in one important issue for development in our country: opportunities for young people who represents the majority of our population.
    unfurtunatily this kind of projects are not sustainable, because it faces with many problems like financial, materials and lack of all kind of incentives.
    I do not want to be pessimist, but in my opinion, young people need hope to build someting and we should give them hope through incentives (trainnings, jobs, and so on) and empower those kind of groups to fight for their rights ( most of them do not have food when arrieve at home).
    I think the most of young mozambicans lost their hope they can not see their future better than their present, and we need give it them in sustainable way.
    Kind regards

  2. Comment by Tabeth posted on

    Dear Neil,

    I have also lived in Mozambique for 3yrs, and i do understand what u r saying, but i think the pple differ with where they r from. I was in Chimoio and the pple there a happy and enthusiastic to learn pple. the children there are very eager to learn and in terms of education they r doing very well. they r a very energetic pple very creative as well. i can only imagine wat a show u had a chance to see wen u were in maputo.

    I am from Zimbabwe and i always enjoyed the way they dance, although i did not understand their culture. In Chimoio pple r doing very well or maybe they r just more organised than maputo pple, coz there was a lot of development going on wen i left. a state of the art teachers college was built and it was already operational, and a univerity was almost complete wen i left last year so i think they r on the track. a number of private schuls with bording were there, so i think they r doing well.

  3. Comment by Neil Squires posted on

    Thanks for your comment Tabeth. I think if people have opportunity, then they will have hope and something to work for. Emilia, in her comment talked about the importance of hope, and it sounds like in Chimolo the development activities had contributed to an atmosphere of hope which had help stimulate or maintain peoples enthusiasm. In general, I am amazed by the number of Mozambicans I meet who are doing further studies, at the same time as working full time - given opportunity and hope people will do what they can to improve their lives. Great to know you had such a postive experience in Chimoio.
    best wishes