Chimoio, 27 March 2023 – Until 2020, life seemed settled for Leonardo, his wife, and their seven children, who lived peacefully in Muidumbe district in the north of Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique. Although they had no great wealth, they felt fulfilled: they had a house with a full larder thanks to hard work on the farm they cultivated; their young children went to school, played ball and drew paintings with their friends and neighbours; and their older children had become independent with jobs within the village and in neighbouring communities.

Despite a visual impairment from a young age that rendered him blind in one eye, Leonardo had earned his status as a highly reputable tailor in the village, a craft he perfected over time, passionate about vivid fabrics that filled the village with colour.

But the peaceful lives of millions of people in northern Mozambique have been affected over the past five years by insecurity, as attacks by Non-State Armed Groups have resulted in a precarious humanitarian situation and the displacement of more than 1 million people within the country.

In October 2020, the imminent risk of an attack on Leonardo's village forced families and neighbours to suddenly flee.

“I saw the gunmen approaching from the farm where I was working. I had to run away without being able to take anything with me. It took me two whole days to find my wife and children, who had also managed to escape and hide in the bush,” says Leonardo, reliving the experience with emotion. “We were leaving behind a whole life that we had worked so hard to build.”

After a long journey marked by exhaustion, uncertainty, and the devastation of leaving an entire life behind, Leonardo and his family arrived at Montepuez district in Cabo Delgado, where they were temporarily relocated until February 2022, when they were permanently relocated to the Chimoio Relocation Site in the same district.

Displacement causes a wide range of stressors such as exposure to traumatic experiences and the breakdown of social support, which can contribute to distress and lead to poor psychosocial well-being. Unemployment, challenging socioeconomic conditions, and lack of social integration are also risk factors for mental health and psychosocial issues. Moreover, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 5 people affected by conflict experiences mental health problems. The prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tends to be higher among displaced communities exposed to adversity and conflict.

When he fled the violence in his hometown of Muidumbe, Leonardo had to leave behind all his belongings, including his sewing machines and materials. Photo: IOM/María Toro

"I felt like a leaf at the mercy of the air; not knowing where to go, or where I was going to fall," remembers Leonardo.

Through its integrated Protection-Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) programming, IOM ensures an inclusive and human rights-based approach to guarantee the availability and accessibility of MHPSS and protection services for internally displaced persons and other affected communities.

Among many other assets, Leonardo was a tailor and he wished to resume sewing. In October 2022, through the project aimed to strengthen appropriate and comprehensive protection and MHPSS services and referrals at provincial and district level in Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces, Leonardo received a new sewing machine and initial materials to be able to restart his business.

With time and his hard work, he has regained his former reputation, this time in his new hometown of Chimoio. His business is growing, and he has even built a bamboo structure alongside his house so he can work and serve people.

Occupations, and relations with the community members, are part of an individual’s identity. Sometimes, during displacement individuals lose their sources of livelihoods, relations, houses, and lands. When they lose these parts of their identities, they often feel less valued in the community, and this increases the distress.

This support goes a long way in assisting individuals resume their lives in their communities and are able to start working and become self-reliant. In Leonardo’s case, the in-kind assistance was essential to reduce further exposure to potential risks for him and his family and enable them to live a dignified life.

Faustino (in the back) is working as an apprentice tailor. With no prior knowledge of the business, he is enjoying the learning and feels very grateful. Photo: IOM/María Toro

"The sewing machine has given me back the will to live, to go on. I had no hope of ever owning a sewing machine again and of dedicating myself again to my passion," says Leonardo.

Despite still facing daily challenges, Leonardo is grateful for this new life and is committed to his new community, helping those who need it most. He supports the school by providing uniforms for the children, and is training two apprentices, neighbours in the displacement site, offering them the chance to learn and to generate income from the products and sales they make.

"What would we be without our community? Whether it's in Macomia or Montepuez, it's our family," expresses Leonardo. "My apprentices are happy to be learning the trade, and my neighbours are happy to have access to new clothes without having to walk 15 kilometres to Montepuez. I love my community and my community loves me."

Internal displacement is at unprecedented levels. Today’s displacement crises have grown in scale, complexity, and duration. With almost 60 million people living in internal displacement, many of them in protracted situations, moving beyond responding to needs, to ending displacement sustainably, is critical.

IOM Protection – MHPSS activities in Mozambique are funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Irish Aid and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

This story was written by María Toro, a member of IOM’s Communications Team in Mozambique.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions