Championing education and community development in Mozambique

Laila Chemane is a passionate young professional, who is committed to improving education and community development in her home country of Mozambique, particularly for the most marginalised. She received an Australia Award Scholarship and completed a Masters of Development Practice at the University of Queensland in 2011. Laila has since undertaken two important community development projects in both the non-governmental and private sectors: with Rio Tinto in its community relations division, and with her own not-for-profit organisation (NPO), Capacity Building and Learning Centre for Civil Society Organisations (CESC).

Currently working as the Resettlement and Engagement Superintendent for Rio Tinto in Tete, Mozambique, Laila deals with cross-cutting community issues on a daily basis. Responsible for the safe and fair resettlement of communities affected by the company’s mining operations, Laila approaches the challenges of her work with integrity and respect. Soon after starting with Rio Tinto in 2012, she was given the challenging task of moving 390 families (a total of 2,500 people) from their homes to the new resettlement areas located about 70 km away.

The process involved community engagement, compensation, relocation and life rehabilitation. Laila was the field coordinator of the resettlement and managed to successfully resettle all the families involved without major incidents or complaints. As a result, the community relations team she is part of received a prize in recognition of their outstanding work.

Laila credits her success to the skills and knowledge acquired during her Australia Award, including project management, strategic engagement and community development techniques.

“Most of the work I do at the moment is related to what I studied in my Masters, including the different approaches to community engagement I use,” she explains.

A significant part of Laila’s work involves coordinating education and vocational courses for women and girls in the resettled communities, an area she cares deeply about. The activities run by Laila and her team focus on self-empowerment and leadership, equipping women and girls with skills that will allow them to potentially earn an additional income and remain in school. Laila is well experienced in the training and empowerment of women and girls.

On another front and before travelling to Australia to undertake her scholarship, Laila and another four people founded CESC, an organisation that promotes education and health at the community level through policy and advocacy programs. A core part of CESC’s advocacy work focuses on girls’ access to education across five provinces of Mozambique.

Upon returning home from her studies in Australia, Laila continued working with CESC, but in a more senior role, engaging broadly with government and local leaders on the promotion of girls’ education. Thanks to the community engagement skills she acquired during her studies in Australia, her work continues to have a positive impact on benefitting communities and has contributed to increasing girls’ school enrolment and improving provincial education services.

Outside of her professional roles, Laila is an active member of the Australia-Mozambique Alumni Association (AMEA) and the Australia Awards African Women in Leadership Network, helping to promote the awards among women in her home country. Working in the mining sector, Laila says that it is important for women to consider applying for such educational opportunities.

“I have been in contact with the district government with whom I work to encourage and support government officials who are interested in applying for the program. I have also provided information to other women and made myself available to help whenever someone needs it”, says Laila.

Thanks to her Australia Award, Laila is now better positioned to effect change in the lives of marginalised community groups in Mozambique. Equipped with a suite of new skills and knowledge, Laila is confident that she will continue to support community development efforts in Mozambique by advocating on behalf of those who need it most.

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