2008-10-02 / Front Page

Islander helps save women's lives in Malawi

By Sam Bari

Carol Sousa Carol Sousa An African missionary named Lamec Msamange visited Islander Carol Sousa's church in Middletown in 1985. He told the congregation about Malawi, a small South African nation that was little known to the world outside its borders at the time. Knowledge of the country and the plight of its people have not greatly improved since.

According to Msamange, more than two million people had been killed in the neighboring country of Mozambique since 1970 due to civil war. Mozambique surrounds Malawi on three sides. Zambia and Tanzania share the northwest and northeast borders respectively.

Msamange told stories of unspeakable atrocities, torture, and mass murder. He said that millions of women were widowed and as many children were orphaned as a result of the war.

If they were not killed by soldiers, they died of disease and starvation because the government would not allow charitable or Christian organizations to bring in food and aid to help these unfortunate victims, he said.

"And they continue to die," Msamange said.

A Cuban-backed local army comprised of Frelinos tribesmen was trained to overthrow the Mozambique democracy and establish a communist government.

A group of Renamos tribesmen objected to the invasion and formed a freedom fighters army to save Mozambique from communist takeover. Unfortunately, the freedom fighters lacked funding, were poorly trained, and inadequately equipped.

The only group permitted by the communists to practice their religion were the Muslims. Indian Muslims considered the territory to be a good business investment and introduced Islam to the area. The Muslims formed a political and business bond with the communists and were left alone.

Christians were persecuted. Anyone caught with a Bible was generally killed immediately. The Frelinos soldiers would go to churches where people were worshipping and ordered all the women to go outside. They would then lock the men and children inside the churches and set the buildings on fire. Their wives were forced to stand outside and listen to their husbands and children scream as they burned and ultimately died.

Millions of refugees fled across the border to Malawi, a nation that was struggling to maintain a stable government and build an economy. The continual influx of refugees strained the tiny nation, its resources and infrastructure to its limits.

After talking to Msamange, Carol Sousa decided to go to Malawi to see if the allegations were true. Her maiden name was Carol Blount, from the family that owned Blount Seafood and Blount Marine. She thought she would use her resources to help the millions of widows whose husbands and children were murdered.

The first time she went to Malawi in June of 1985, she took her 14-year old son, Jonathan. To her horror, everything Msamange had said was true. The conditions were much worse than she ever expected or imagined.

Women were staying alive by eating water lilies. When the water lilies were gone, they ate grass. Those who only had grass to eat eventually died of malnutrition.

The first person Sousa met when she arrived in Mulanji, a town on the Mozambique border, was a man named Augustine. Mulanji is not on most maps.

She wondered why so many of the black population had Christian names. She learned that the Portuguese had settled in Mozambique years ago, long before the current unrest. Many of the natives spoke Portuguese as well as several local languages.

Sousa said that Augustine was covered in mud when she met him. He was nearly naked, and his left eye was missing. An empty socket covered in mud was where his eye should have been. Augustine told her that he was beaten because he was caught with a Bible. His eye was knocked out while the soldiers were beating him.

After they talked, she said the man looked so wretched, abandoned, and dejected that she hugged him. He wept. Sousa said that one little hug gave him hope that all was not lost. She met many of the refugees and the few children that escaped.

The widowed women had suffered every form of abuse imaginable. Many of them were impregnated by rape and bore the children that they desperately tried to nurture. Sousa said that she hugged as many as she could.

"The women were so unloved," Sousa said. "They were living proof that without love, there is no hope."

Sousa spent three months of each following year in Tingani until 1989. She brought her two daughters with her to help. With Msamange's assistance, she established an incorporated ministry. They named it El Shaddi, which means God Almighty.

Sousa gave as much as she could to provide the starving women with maize, their main staple. When cooked, maize is called msima (pronounced seema, the m is silent), she said. Msima looks like Cream of Wheat. It is not much more than ground corn and water.

The widowed women needed so much Sousa said she didn't know where to start. She quickly realized that her resources were limited and she needed to get help. If she gave away all of her money, nothing would be left to continue her work.

Whenever she returned to America she did what she could to raise awareness and send funds, clothing, and anything else of value to Malawi.

"We keep these women alive. That in itself is a daunting task," Sousa said. "But that is what we do. A bowl of maize and a hug brings smiles to their faces and a visible change to their personality. Again, we hugged as many people as we possibly could."

Sousa said that the children had nothing that even resembled a toy. They were happy to be alive. Since they had nothing, it took little to make them smile, she said.

Carol Sousa lives in Jamestown when she is not in Malawi. She will return to her home in Tingani, a tiny village at the southern

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