‘Witch daughters’ cared for by United Methodist Church

April 6, 2005

NOTE: This story is the fourth part of a six-week Close Up series, "Mozambique: A Land of Contrasts." Related reports, photographs and audio are available at http://umns.umc.org.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MASSIGNA, Mozambique (UMNS)—After Joaneta Tomo Come’s husband died in 1991, her four children chased her out of her home because they thought she killed him using witchcraft.

"They said, ‘You have to go away, you killed our father,’ and I haven’t heard from any of them since then," she says.

Come is one of 26 elderly women living at the United Methodist Hanhane Women’s Shelter. All are there because their families accused them of witchcraft and threw them out.

These "witch daughters" are cared for by the United Methodist Women’s Society of Mozambique.

"I feel better here; I am not suffering like I used to," Come says. She arrived when the shelter opened in 1992. The women have formed a community in the shelter and say they feel comforted to be part of the "family of the United Methodist Church."

Gina Chichava, wife of Mauricio Chichava, superintendent of the Massinga North and South districts, lives close by and keeps a watch on the women.

"I have heard of relatives coming here to talk to them, but the majority do not," she says. "In one case, a son did write to the district and apologized for the treatment of his mother, and eventually she went home to live with him."

Church leaders visit to talk and worship and let the women know someone cares. The women help one another also.

Most suffer from asthma and arthritis. A local retired nurse visits twice a week, "but she often lacks medication to give them," Chichava says.

The Hanhane Women’s Shelter was established because the Women’s Society saw the need. "It is such a shame to see elderly women wandering around the streets," says Judite Gemo, a member of the society. She and others say it is not uncommon for older women to be cast out of their families and accused of witchcraft.

The women live in traditional huts, but a permanent shelter is planned. In 2003, the huts were destroyed by a cyclone, prompting Bishop Joao S. Machado to ask for help in building permanent housing. The Mozambique Initiative in Missouri has contributed $6,000, and another $4,000 is needed before construction can begin, says Carol Kreamer, U.S. coordinator of the Missouri Mozambique Initiative.

Contributions to the shelter may be sent through a local United Methodist church or annual conference, or by mailing a check to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Write the check out to "Advance GCFA" and include "Shelter for Dispossessed Widows, Massinga," Advance #14507J, on the check memo line. Call (888) 252-6174 to give by credit card. For more information, visit the Advance Web site, http://gbgm-umc.org/advance.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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