Graça Machel, Foundation for Community Development of Mozambique
Former First Lady of Mozambique and of South Africa
Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. I regret not being able to join such a remarkable group of people assembled for the first global gathering about social isolation and connectedness. I very much wish I could be with all of you today.
Thank you especially to my friends Kim Samuel and Peggy Dulany for their invitation to speak with you.
Here in Southern Africa there is a growing recognition of the pervasive effects that social isolation can have on people living with poverty, disabilities, human rights abuses, and other challenges. For example, when we look at poverty most people focus on economic hardships. Here we are looking at poverty holistically by focusing on the overall well-being of an individual and with their community in order to eliminate chronic isolation as both a contributor to and consequence of poverty.
Without meaningful social connections people often feel unsafe and as if they do not belong, which weakens the social fabric that holds us together and enable us to develop inner resilience and the ability to thrive. Isolation is especially problematic for people coping with HIV/AIDS.
But isolation is also caused by discrimination and disability.
In my country, Mozambique, disability due to land mines is a major problem. So the topic of overcoming isolation is tremendously important to us for many reasons. Fortunately, there is an emerging recognition among several society organizations, governments, and development activists that we can’t just look at the physical manifestation of the problems we are trying to address.
We must look at the social, emotional, and psychological effects, too. Multidimensional problems require multidimensional solutions. Together with the people living with chronic isolation we must look at how to creatively mend to the fabric which connects people to community and shows them that they are held in a space that is safe, and secure, and larger than themselves. You all are part of an emerging movement to do this as is my organization the Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique. My foundation is working in partnership with the Samuel Family Foundation, Synergos, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.
Our focus is on overcoming isolation by deepening the human connections that allow people to feel like they belong, particularly in ways that improve the lives of children. Our foundation understands both the pain of isolation and the promise of community-based interventions that enable children to be embraced by others, achieve their full potential, and become contributing members of their society. We have found that indigenous systems of social support exist, but they are not necessarily understood and promoted. Strengthening those systems is central to our work.
I am happy that our experience is being shared in Toronto and that our work will be enriched by the experience of those of you working in other places and with other communities. I very much look forward to learning about the outcomes of this symposium.
I wish you a resounding success. Thank you.