Success Story from Mozambique: Graça Machel’s Support for Women and Children

Graça Simbine Machel was born in 1945, the youngest in a family with six children, in what is today Mozambique. Her father, a Methodist minister died three weeks before she was born. Ms. Machel attended mission schools before a church-based scholarship in 1968 enabled her to study at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. While still in Europe, Ms. Machel joined the Marxist Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), an organized resistance movement against Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique.

Suspecting that she was under surveillance by the Portuguese secret police Ms. Machel, fled to Switzerland and then to Tanzania where she underwent military training at a FRELIMO camp. From Tanzania she returned to neighboring Mozambique in 1973, where she met Samora Machel, a FRELIMO commander who became her husband and the first President of independent Mozambique in 1975.

First Lady Machel became the Minister of Education and Culture in 1975. Through her post Graça Machel worked to implement FRELIMO’s goal of universal education for Mozambicans. In her more than a decade in office, she helped raise primary and secondary school enrollment from around 40 percent to over 90 percent for males and 75 percent for females.

Ms. Machel is widely recognized for her dedication to education and for her leadership in organizations devoted to children. Ms. Machel has assisted orphans by serving as Chairperson of the National Organization of Children of Mozambique. She has served as a delegate to the 1988 UNICEF conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, as the President of the National Commission of UNESCO in Mozambique, and on the international steering committee of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All.

First Lady Machel was widowed in 1986, following the death of President Machel in a plane crash. In the 1990s, a friendship developed between Ms. Machel and Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa, and Ms. Machel once again became a First Lady when the couple married in 1998. The two remained together until Mandela’s death in late 2013.

In 1990, Ms. Machel created the first indigenous non-governmental organization in Mozambique, the Association for Community Development (ADC). In 1994, ADC was transformed into the Foundation for Community Development (FDC) in Mozambique with Ms. Machel as its President. The FDC is Mozambique’s first endowed grant-making foundation. By 2003, the FDC had mobilized more than $11 million to help fund more than 100 social development initiatives that directly benefited 35,000 Mozambicans. FDC remains at the forefront of HIV/AIDS healthcare, education and prevention in Mozambique; the organization seeks to end the social isolation experienced by many with the disease. FDC also has championed sustainable development, improved community access to technology, and continues to provide grants that help Mozambicans help themselves.

Ms. Machel has gained considerable international recognition for her good works. Her many awards include the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from the Hunger Project in 1992 and in 1995 the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children. In 1997 she was made an honorary Dame by the Order of the British Empire for her humanitarian work. She has received the Inter Press Service’s International Achievement Award, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, and a 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award.

She has been awarded more than one honorary doctoral degree, has served on the boards of the UN Foundation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists, the African Leadership Forum and the International Crisis Group. Among her many commitments, she is Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization Fund and Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Graça Machel and her initiatives for women and children been so successful?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Ms. Machel knows that HER OPPORTUNITY CAME FROM OTHERS PULLING TOGETHER to help her obtain a university education and that WITH PRIVILEGE COMES RESPONSIBILITY. This motivated her to make a positive change for others, especially children. In 1996, she wrote The Impact of War on Children, an influential UNICEF report.

More recently she has undertaken several initiatives on behalf of women and children. Her New Faces, New Voices is a Pan-African advocacy group that focuses on expanding the role and influence of women in the financial sector. The Graça Machel Trust STRIVES FOR EXCELLENCE when seeking to improve the lives of women and children as well as governance and leadership. Ms. Machel’s DEEP CONCERN FOR THE WELLBEING OF OTHERS helped her become the only woman in the world who has been First Lady to two liberation presidents. This unique status in turn has led to considerable international support for her development initiatives.

By Heidi G. Frontani

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