CAN, or The Centro Aberto de Nhamatsane began in 2005 as a grass-roofed hut in a village outside of the small city of Chimoio in Manica, Mozambique. Inacio Cesario, who was born and raised in Nhamatsane, started the Center to address the most dire needs of his community. He saw his neighbors and their children, like many Mozambicans struggling against the insurmountable challenges of living in a place that had been ravaged by centuries of oppressive colonization and decades of war and violence. The poverty that engulfed the village of Nhamatsane was suffocating and inescapable.
Traveling from the United States on a humanitarian effort, Elyse Stevens, (Head of Operations, US, OPI) found Inacio teaching a group of children outside this very hut, one hot Mozambican day. Inacio was drawing alphabet letters in the dirt for the children. Elyse was immediately drawn in, and hung around until the end of the lesson. Speaking with Inacio, she learned of his efforts in elevating the community. Elyse realized that Inacio was meeting the immediate needs of the community, with his work, and that with more resources, he and his volunteers could affect true development within their community. With this idea in mind, Elyse returned to the United States, ready to build out a nonprofit in the name of the Community Center Inacio had started. She began sending small amounts of money, and vowed to attend medical school, so that she could have the knowledge and access to the supplies and tool needed to make a difference in the lives of those that lack access to basic healthcare.
Through the years, Elyse continued to send a portion of her paycheck, and support from afar. She visited when she could, and helped Inacio evolve the Escolinha into the Community Center it is today. Elyse attended medical school at Tulane University and completed her residency at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, where she worked as a resident at Grady Memorial Hospital, at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As Elyse studied, she also became the medical contact for the Center, often answering text consults from the Center in the middle of the night. It became clear that the Escolinha was not adequately addressing the health crisis affecting the rural area Mozambicans. The children weren’t attending, as they were ill and dying of malnutrition and curable infections and diseases. The crisis became clear, and Elyse and Inacio orchestrated a multi-tiered plan to address the healthcare crisis.
They created an adult education advocacy program, and encouraged recruitment from locals – they set up training workshops on basic nutrition, education to combat cultural fallacies, and training on basic healthcare. These advocates were then sent out to each rural home, where they shared their knowledge, one on one, with the people that needed it most.
To address the limited access to nutritional foods, Inacio set up a vegetable farm, to both empower the local community to join in on their own betterment, to provide a source of income for what was becoming the OpenCenter Nhamatsane, and to provide the community with access to the foods they so needed.
From time to time, Elyse was able to travel to Nhamatsane, and meet with Inacio, hold training sessions with his recruits, and monitor program progress. Also in those years, Elyse founded the Center as a 501-C3 organization. The foundation was still running purely on a small portion of Elyse’s paycheck, and now, what was becoming a well managed farming operation.
The Escolinha grew, and became a multi-purpose community center, always open, always there for the community. The tiny hut was replaced with a concrete building, with a bathroom (!). With volunteers as teachers and administrators, the center enrolled each and every child who came to the center’s doors. When conditions permitted, they were provided breakfast and a snack. With their youngest children at the escolinha, mothers were then able to tend to their homes and sell their crops at the market. Older siblings, specifically older sisters, were then free to go to school themselves. The escolinha continued to grow, and enrolled hundreds of children every year. Little by little, life started changing in Nhamatsane.
Over the years, Inacio and his dedicated team have continued to serve the community of Nhamatsane. Over 40 village health workers have been trained at the center in first aid and preventive health. Partnerships with larger organizations have brought vaccinations to the village as well as mosquito nets, water purification drops, and a covered well with a pump.
In recent years, Nhamatsane, and the country as a whole, have made remarkable strides in development. The children at the escolinha now sit on tiny chairs at tiny tables. They each have pencils and a notebook. Some homes have electricity and bathrooms indoors. There is a road that connects the city to the edge of the village, which is traversable by car. Despite these improvements, many people still lack clean water and adequate nutrition. Education is difficult to attain due to cost and availability. Parents are unable to protect their children from preventable diseases because they do not know how, or do not have the resources. Children still die of infections from scraped knees or parasites.
Yet, Inacio and his team persist – our doors stay open. Children continue to come to class every morning and each time an adult education course is offered, the room is always full from wall to wall. The Center at Nhamatsane is truly a CENTER of the COMMUNITY. It has become a shared space for education, health, nourishment, and play. It empowers community members as stakeholders in sustainable development that is both attainable and relevant to them and their families. The Center sees the needs of the community and works within itself to meet them. It has grown from the roots of the village itself, and is cultivated by its people.
The empowerment that the Center has brought to the small community of Nhamatsane has led to improvements in the lives of the rural peoples in the surrounding areas. It has become their pride, their solution, and their comfort. The messaging and access to the basic healthcare and education the Center provides has reached far throughout the rural areas, and many that come to the Center walk for great distances to access its resources.
It has become clear that more Centers, like the Open Center at Nhamatsane, are needed. Inacio has purchased land in the neighboring community of Piloto, and the work now begins to bring the sustainable solution that was created at Nhamatsane to other communities across rural Mozambique and beyond.
This is OpenCenter International. We are 100% volunteer run – not a single dollar of funding goes anywhere but to the Centers we seek to serve. Funding helps to purchase equipment, land, buildings, and improvements. We do not hand out charity – the Center is responsible for its own daily sustainment – we provide the little bits of capital needed for the OpenCenter movement to grow.
You can help us grow right now – donate and your funds will go directly to the purchase of new equipment, land for increased farming and new area Centers, and additional healthcare supplies. Your dollars support the direct operations of OPI, and the direct effect is pronounced on the people we serve. We thank you for your support.