A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The popular idiom “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be communicated with just a single still image or that an image of a subject can communicate its meaning or essence more effectively than a written or spoken description does. Similar phrases exist around the world. In 1861, Russian writer Ivan Turgenev penned “The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book”. Another well-used Chinese expression translates as “Hearing something a hundred times isn’t better than seeing it once”. This idea transcends countries and cultures and Mozambique is no exception.

In a sandy clearing between bare brick structures, a woman stands gripping a large book in one hand and, pointing with the other, asks the mothers seated before her a simple question. “What do you see in this picture?” Their eyes are drawn to the image of a young woman being dragged reluctantly toward a waiting, well-dressed, older man. “He wants to marry her, but she does not want to marry” someone exclaims. “Does she have to marry him?” the leader asks.  “NO” is the unanimous reply. “Why?” the leader probes. One capulana-clad mother squints up into the boughs of a mango tree as she searches her memory and then responds “because both people need to agree to marry, without free will it is not marriage”. When asked, the group murmur their agreement. The discussion then moves on to an animated debate about issues of consent in their own neighbourhood.

This group is just one of many in the communities of Manga Loforte, Beira currently using an illustrated album to raise awareness and reflection on legal issues relating to marriage. Designed by AMAC, the album uses pictures and stories to deconstruct and explain the law on marriage, divorce and cohabitation. The album was first used to train seven facilitators who work for the Christian development organisation Oasis Mozambique. They each received a copy of the album and trained a further group of 12 mother leaders, who in turn shared the information with a further 12 women as per the diagram:

Cascade diagram

Using pictures as focal points, the teaching and stories stream from one group to the next, in the process reaching those with little formal education or access to written law. As such, this method of training has been called “cascade” as, like a waterfall, information flows down through different levels of the community until it reaches people at the base.  Questions and issues arise from the trainings and this creates the opportunity for an AMAC lawyer to do a follow-up visit to each community to answer queries, provide more detail, give legal advice and also to take on cases when necessary.

Of course there are some challenges and limitations to this type of project. There are few men involved in the trainings, as it is generally more difficult to engage with and organise the men. Also, when people gain in knowledge and awareness, these changes can also bring disruption and even some conflict within the community. To this end, AMAC is also training and consulting with local leaders and government administrators, who can guide, advise and also help to resolve disputes within their communities.

There is still significant scope for improvement. However, many are already showing that they “get the picture”. Following training in Manga Loforte, eight couples who were cohabiting decided to legally marry, both as a public declaration of their commitment and to secure the marital rights and responsibilities provided by law. Such positive outcomes are very encouraging. To witness a couple dedicating themselves to each other before man and God is a surely a sight worth a thousand words.