Everywhere AKF works we meet community-minded individuals who are strengthening the fabric of civil society. These community weavers are unsung heroes who volunteer their time and expertise, mobilise others, and bring diverse groups together to bring about transformative change within their communities.
This work is local, often challenging, and frequently goes unheralded. Yet the efforts of community weavers form the foundation for so much of what AKF is able to achieve. They are the leaders and members of a network of more than 50,000 civil society organisations we partner with, ensuring our impact is responsive to community needs and aspirations.
Each month throughout 2024, we will be sharing the stories of community weavers from around the world who are bridging and bettering their communities.
This is Maria Helena’s story.
My name is Maria Helena Frederico. I am 64 years old and I live in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique. I am an agricultural producer, a health activist, a district advisory board member, a gender-based violence officer, and the president of my local Village Development Organisation (VDO).
I am also wheelchair-bound. My son and daughter live in their own homes, so I live with my nephew and his family. Every day, I use my wheelchair to get around, often with the help of my grandchildren.
I have always enjoyed working for my community. I do not need anything in return, and even though I’m physically disabled, I do not see limits to my dreams. In my community, I’ve crafted a life that’s nothing short of extraordinary.
“Even though I’m physically disabled, I do not see limits to my dreams. In my community, I’ve crafted a life that’s nothing short of extraordinary.”
I have been a proud member of the VDO since 2008, when the Aga Khan Foundation started working with my community to support agriculture. With my family’s support, I have given lectures and practical guidance to demonstrate how improve agricultural practices can boost production, productivity, and the health of the people in our community.
As VDO president, I have fought for women to have a voice, to feel comfortable participating in meetings and community events, and to have the power to make decisions. When I arrived in this community in the early 2000s, women did not have a voice to express their opinions, nor did they have economic empowerment.
Today, it is normal to find both men and women gathered to discuss matters in their community. Women give their opinions freely and sometimes chair groups, movements, and meetings. It is also becoming more and more common for women in our community to become financially independent and support their families.
“As VDO president, I have fought for women to have a voice,”
It makes me proud to serve my community by passing on knowledge and experience I have to others by giving lectures and leading awareness campaigns. I felt especially proud when in July 2015, I had the opportunity to present my community’s ‘Map of Dreams’ at an event that brought together many people from across Maputo. The ‘Map of Dreams’ is a visualisation our goals and ambitions as a community, so that we can work together to make the changes we need.
Over the years, it has been difficult to be in meetings where almost everyone was male. It was hard to break down gender barriers that were deeply rooted in the belief that women should not involve themselves in certain professions. But I have learned how to lead people, read behaviours, and respect the opinions of my peers so that we can work together towards a common goal.
“Over the years, it has been difficult to be in meetings where almost everyone was male. It was hard to break down gender barriers,”
I believe I am a role model of community service and hope to inspire young people, and particularly young women, on a daily basis. By getting involved in our communities like I have, we can help transform social norms and set an example to the next generation that change is possible, despite the challenges we face today.
My advice to women is to be more united, be patient and have hope – together we can shift the mindset and behaviours of those around us.