Sena is a remote, rural village located in the Zambezi River valley in Sofala province in central Mozambique. Its estimated 36,000 residents work mainly in the areas of agriculture and fishing. The neighborhoods and houses, mostly made out of mud, bamboo and straw, are relatively spread out. The vast majority of people speak the local dialect chisena while a much smaller minority, comprised almost exclusively of local businessmen, teachers, students, and health professionals, are able to speak Mozambique’s official language Portuguese.
Traditional customs continue to dominate the local culture and impact individual and household decision-making in diverse matters ranging from health to education and marriage. Beside traditional beliefs, other religions commonly practiced here include Catholicism, various forms of evangelical Christianity, and a small group of Islam adherents.
Sena’s climate is extreme and varied and the village is prone to natural disasters including flooding and droughts. The intense flooding is due to heavy rainfall further upstream in Tete province that forces the Cahora Bassa Dam to open up its gates, thus affecting all communities downstream on the Zambezi River including Sena. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are known to inhabit the river around here. Crops vary throughout the year, but available mostly year-round are sugar cane, corn, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and kale. Common animals raised in Sena for consumption and sale include goats, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, cows and sheep.
The vast majority of Sena families are living in poverty. 75 percent of the population is considered young (under the age of 46). Life expectancy in Sena is cut short due to various factors including: a weak health system (there are currently no doctors regularly residing and practicing in Sena); poor nutrition; widespread cultural beliefs that encourage people to seek traditional healers for treatment, who in turn instruct clients to conduct risky sexual cleansing practices for healing; premature marriages and pregnancies; and poor family planning resulting in large families with limited resources to adequately care for everyone. Other challenges affecting the village’s overall welfare include high illiteracy rates, particularly among women; lack of employment opportunities; and public health concerns such as limited access to potable water, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and water-borne illnesses such as cholera. While Sena is an impoverished place and life is difficult here, its people carry a warmth, openness, and resiliency unmatched in other parts of Mozambique.
Sena is characterized by an interesting history of rises and falls in terms of economic, political and social activity. It used to be a central trading post on the Zambezi River and a contender for the provincial capital. The impact of the fairly recent civil war on public infrastructure was marked but significant improvements have contributed to Sena’s recent overall development, including access to electricity, construction of a new secondary school, and improvements in the Beira Corridor train line making weekly stops in Sena and the road connecting Sena to neighboring larger villages. The village also has one health post, a police station, administrative post where the local government operates, a main open market area where most of Sena’s commercial activities take place, and a few hostels located directly across the market.
Sena’s largest employer is Kuwangisana Organization, a community based organization serving thousands of clients in the areas of prevention, home-based care, and care for orphans and vulnerable children. Other local attractions in Sena include Sena’s Stone, a historical, cultural monument with a puzzling inscription that only recently has been unlocked, and the Dona Ana Bridge, built in 1934 and formerly the largest bridge in Africa, spanning across the Zambezi River and connecting Sena to Mutarara in Tete province.