#IStandForGirls: Kurandza’s Mission to Help Girls in Mozambique Go to School

“I’ve always believed that when you educate a girl, you empower a nation.” Queen Rania of Jordan

Kurandza (which means “to love” in Changana, the local language ) is a non-profit social enterprise that invests in the future of women in Mozambique. Founded by Elisabetta Colabianchi in 2014, Kurandza works to empower women and their community through education, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development programs in Guijá, Mozambique.

Elisabetta was first introduced to Guijá, a small village in southern Mozambique, when she lived and worked there as a Peace Corps volunteer at a local hospital. Her main role was to counsel HIV-positive women on the prevention of HIV transmission to their children. During her work she realized that many patients would abandon treatment because they could not pay for transportation to the hospital to pick-up their medicine each month. Elisabetta and her good friend, Percina Mocha who lived in the community, started an income generation project for the HIV-positive women, with the goal of teaching them a skill that would earn enough income to pay for the monthly transportation costs to the hospital. The impact was enormous and sparked the impetus for Elisabetta to do more.

In the Fall of 2014 after returning to the US, Elisabetta founded Kurandza to continue supporting the community through a variety of educational, business and sustainable development programs. Her good friend Percina works as the Country Director of Kurandza in Mozambique and is responsible for managing all of the programs on the ground.

This month, Kurandza has launched the #IStandForGirls campaign with the goal of sending 100 girls to school in Mozambique.  

What is the campaign?

In the month of September the goal is to bring-on 100 purpose-driven individuals who support girls education, empowerment and gender equality to become monthly donors and will afford an education to girls in Mozambique.

For $20 per month (or $240 a year), someone can join the movement and give a future to a girl in Mozambique. The $20 pays for school fees, uniform, backpack, school supplies, school books, photocopies for exams, and transportation to get to school.

I have just signed on to support a girl’s education. It is something I have always wanted to do especially as a mother of a ten-year old girl who has all the opportunity imaginable simply based on where she was born.

Why girls education? 

I had the opportunity to interview both Elisabetta and Percina (who was the first girl to graduate from high school in her community) to learn more about the campaign and the impact an education makes on a girl. Here is what they had to say.

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Kurandza: One woman’s quest to #FeedMozambique

Meet Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder of Kurandza, a non-profit social enterprise that invests in the future of women in Mozambique. I have featured her work and organization before on my blog and include their products under my Gifts that Give Back Guide. Kurandza uses education, entrepreneurship and sustainable development programs to help create opportunity and change for women and their communities. A devastating two-year drought in Mozambique has caused widespread hunger inspiring Elisabetta to shift gears and focus on hunger relief. Here is her heartwarming story. 

Percina and Elisabetta. Photo credit: Nicole Anderson of Sorella Muse Photography

Percina and Elisabetta, two wonderful friends who met in a village in Mozambique while Elisabetta was a Peace Corps volunteer. Photo credit: Nicole Anderson of Sorella Muse Photography

“Kurandza: To Love”: Written by Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder and Designer, Kurandza

I’d known there was a hunger crisis in Mozambique, but what really got to me was hearing that HIV positive mothers were faced with choosing between letting their children starve or nursing their children past the recommended time despite the risk of passing on HIV.

Prior to founding my non-profit organization, Kurandza, which means “to love” in the local Changana language, I lived in Mozambique as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. While there, I worked at a rural hospital counseling mothers on the prevention of HIV transmission to their babies, and had successfully prevented the transmission to hundreds of children.

At first, I thought that maybe the mothers who continued to nurse despite the risk were doing this because they forgot their training. Or I thought perhaps I hadn’t taught them very well after all.

But when I counseled one of these mothers over the phone last month from my home, now living thousands of miles away in California, I realized she knew exactly what she was doing, and that it hurt her to do so. She knew that by continuing to nurse her child past the recommended time, she was putting her baby at risk to contract HIV. She knew that when a child contracts the HIV virus, it often leads to mortality.

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Kurandza

Gifts that Give Back: The Inspiration behind Kurandza

 “Kurandza” = “to love” in Changana, the local language of our women in Mozambique

Last fall 2014 after returning from serving three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, Elisabetta Colabianchi an American from California fulfilled a long-term dream of founding Kurandza. Kurandza is a purpose-driven fashion company that creates handcrafted jewelry and accessories with women in Mozambique. Their mission is to empower women, the majority of whom are HIV positive, through education and employment opportunities. In addition to receiving fair wages for their work, profits from sales go back to this community to fund development projects.

Kurandza got its start while Elisabetta was a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching HIV-positive women the skill of sewing so that they could earn a sustainable income and provide for themselves and their families. Today, Kurandza sells online and are supporting nine women in Mozambique.

Kurandza

Elisabetta with two women from her “Mother to Mother” support group at the local hospital where she worked.

Although I have already added Kurandza to my permanent page of “Gifts that Give Back”, I wanted to learn more about the story behind it. I had an opportunity to conduct and interview with Elisabetta to learn more about her inspiration behind Kurandza and what she hopes to achieve. Here it is.

Elisabetta in Geneva where she participated in a study abroad program at the United Nations through NYU.

Elisabetta in Geneva where she participated in a study abroad program at the United Nations through NYU.

A Conversation with Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder and CEO of Kurandza 

Me: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What did you study and why did you choose to be in the Peace Corps?

Elisabetta: I’m from San Francisco, California, but have lived in many different places that I still consider home. During college in San Diego, I studied Biology, foreign languages and Peace and Justice Studies. I was so fortunate to be able to study abroad in Mexico, Argentina, and in Italy, where I spent my junior year. In Milan, Italy, I took several courses in International Relations at the Italian university and also studied fashion. After college, I moved to New York City where I worked for an anti-hunger non-profit, helping low-income residents apply for public benefits and learn about financial literacy and nutrition. There I realized that I wanted to do similar work abroad, teaching people skills that would help them have a better future. I’ve always loved learning new languages, traveling and adapting to different cultures and making a difference, so I thought Peace Corps was the right next step. I was thrilled when I found out that I would be a Community Health Volunteer in Mozambique and would be learning Portuguese (the national language) as well as a local language, too!

Me: What inspired you to start Kurandza? 

Elisabetta: As a Community Health Volunteer, I worked at the local hospital counseling HIV positive women on treatment adherence and the prevention of transmission of HIV to their babies. I noticed that many of the patients weren’t able to reach the hospital every month to pick-up their treatment because they didn’t have an income to pay for the transportation expenses. I wanted to help these women stay on treatment and continue attending their support groups and counseling sessions so that they and their babies would remain healthy. This is what inspired me to start an income generation activity for these women. My friend, Percina, thought that teaching these women how to sew would be a beneficial skill for them for their entire lives, and I’ve always been interested in fashion and creating jewelry, so we thought starting a sewing cooperative was a perfect choice!

Kurandza

With her friend and co-worker, Percina, at Elisabetta’s “despedida” going away party.

 Me: What were some of the challenges you faced in starting Kurandza? 

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