Alcinda Brubaker, a 27-year-old student at Eastern Mennonite University, was adopted by an American couple from an orphanage in Maputo, Mozambique, when she was just more than 1 year old. She said her biological parents left her to die at a hospital in the Mozambican city of Nampula.
“I was 2 pounds at birth and I had a blood disease, and they just didn’t come back to get me when I was born,” Brubaker said.
Her adoptive parents, Wayne Teel and Alta Brubaker, were both working in southeastern Africa for Mennonite Central Committee.
“[They] met in Kenya when they were both doing separate things and fell in love and couldn’t have kids. So, they decided when they were in Mozambique doing work that they would adopt,” she said.
Alta Brubaker, a psychiatrist, was working with victims dealing with the trauma of Mozambique’s civil war. Teel, an environmental science professor at James Madison University, was helping with agriculture and sustainability projects.
Brubaker was raised in Keezletown and is majoring in marketing with a minor in digital media and communication at EMU. She’s remained connected to her home country, returning to Mozambique in 2009 as part of a study abroad trip her father organized to Kenya. She embarked on the journey back to the orphanage she was adopted from with her brother, who is not a biological sibling.
“Going back to the orphanage was an amazing opportunity,” Brubaker said. “They remembered my parents and they remembered us. Obviously, we were infants at the time, but it was really amazing for them to see my brother and I grown up.”
Like her parents, Brubaker was there working with Mennonite Central Committee, a nonprofit providing assistance with humanitarian and disaster relief, community development and peacebuilding around the world.
“I knew that I definitely wanted to be able to go back since I’ve been very privileged living here in the United States with parents who both have Ph.D.s and have been able to really financially push me pretty far in life,” Brubaker said. “So, with my means, I wanted to give back as much as I can.”
Brubaker was planning to return to Mozambique this summer, but those plans were derailed when Cyclone Idai made landfall in Beira on March 14, devastating Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe with massive flooding and strong winds.
As a result of the catastrophic damage, at least 1,000 people have died and there have been thousands of cases of cholera, along with food shortages. The cyclone has affected nearly 3 million people, according to Mercy Corps.
Africanews.com reported that Mozambique will face more than $656 million in economic loss, according to The World Bank, which estimates that recovery costs will exceed $2 billion across all three affected countries.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes, along with more than half a million hectares of crops destroyed by floods.
“In the first couple weeks, the biggest issue was that most of the roads turned into rivers. So, it was hard to get to people. … A lot of people were stranded, especially in the areas that are mostly remote,” Brubaker said. “I have a couple friends that are in Mozambique that have been updating me via social media to see how things are going. There’s still a lot of people in need. It’s been a month now.”
Wanting to make a difference at home, Brubaker organized a fundraiser for Mennonite Central Committee’s Mozambique relief efforts called Black Box: Beats for Mozambique, a collaboration between EMU’s Black Student Union and Art Club, from 7 to 10 p.m. April 25 in the Studio Theater, located in EMU University Commons. The event featured live entertainment, an art display, an open mic, a fashion show and topic discussions.
Brubaker opened the show with remarks, followed by her father, Teel, the keynote speaker.
Black Box is a multimedia art show concept created by Alexa Lahr, a 19-year-old EMU freshman. The first Black Box event was held in February for Black History Month.
“The main goal is to bring the campus together through art forms because a lot of the time people stick with who they’re comfortable with and art is a good way to break that barrier and bring them together,” Lahr said.
Lahr, whose stage name is Lahrgirl, performed, along with recent EMU alumni Meechy Jay, and local hip-hop artists Grayling Skyy, Keynote Illidge and Lyriq Luchiano. Josh Gomez, an EMU student, DJed the event.
The fashion show highlighted clothing and arts from the region., including jewelry and bags from Kenya and Mozambique for sale, with proceeds going toward Mennonite Central Committee.
The Black Box events typically involve two discussion questions that are meant to start conversations. The discussions for Beats for Mozambique will be cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation and climate change, which ties into Cyclone Idai.
“Because it’s also Earth Week, it’s another reason why we’re going to talk about climate change to make people aware because mostly different impoverished areas around the world feel climate change a lot more,” Brubaker said. “We’re going to talk about the implications.”
The students want to bring more attention to the relief efforts in Mozambique, where thousands have died and millions are in need of assistance, while other events, such as the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, have dominated news coverage and social media.
“We concentrate on the privileged areas more than the people that aren’t privileged, and it needs to be talked about more and those conversations need to be held — that’s what the Black Box is for,” Lahr said.
Mennonite Central Committee, according to its website, is working with Brethren in Christ Church, the Christian Council of Mozambique and the Association of Assistance of Orphaned Children to assist more than 1,100 families in Mozambique with one month of food.
Brubaker said representatives from Mennonite Central Committee attended the fundraiser to speak about their relief efforts.
“With it being a student event, a lot of students don’t have a lot of money. So, we want them to come for the cause and if they’re able to donate, then that’s great,” Brubaker said.