Into Africa–February 21, 2013

056Without a doubt, the highlights of this past week were my visits to two schools.

Soon after I arrived, I began asking friends and colleagues about schools that might be in need of all the things I brought with me, courtesy of many of you (money, soccer balls, pens). I also wanted to be sure that these gifts would not end up in someone’s pocket. Initially I thought maybe the flood victims would be a good place for it. But they are getting lots of attention now, with millions pouring in to help.

When I talked to Ida, a graceful woman who works at the same organization as I do, I had very good feeling (and I’m learning to trust those). She has lived here her whole life. She was part of the movement and war that led to independence in 1975, and then the civil war that started a few years after that, ending in 1992. The country emerged from that period of strife crippled, and the slow journey to re-build began. Ida is fiercely patriotic, determined to do anything she can do to improve Mozambique. She fights for human rights, is part of many causes, and is outspoken (not a common female trait here). She could be earning a very good living in the private sector, but chooses to stay in education to try to help the next generation. She holds down several jobs. It’s ironic that in a country that is trying to re-build its education system, they pay those that deliver it next to nothing…about $600 per month. Rent is about $500. This is a whole other issue for another time.

Anyway, Ida mentioned two schools that she has been involved that really need help: Casa du Gaiato (House for Boys), and Escola Secondaria Forca do Povo (Strength of the People Secondary School).

Casa du Gaiato is a school for boys who have lost their parents. It is run by a priest, Father Jose Maria, a very nice man who has been doing this for about 40 years. It sits on a site that used to be riddled with land mines. Most of the boys were found homeless and living on the street. Some have been bought and sold. They come from a range of horrific backgrounds, and predictably, many have serious emotional problems. There are 150 boys, ranging in age from 2 to 18. The school is not supported by the Government of Mozambique, but had been funded by Spain and Portugal when it began again 12 years ago. But they have stopped funding it since the economic downturn, and the school is trying to survive.018

There are five different houses for various age groups. The boys themselves run the houses, with a “chef” and “co-chef” in charge of each group. They meet every day to talk about problems highlights and lowlights in each of their houses and work on solutions. All boys are housed, fed, and taught. They all have responsibilities with their houses, working the land, preparing and serving meals, etc. There are no fences, so any boy can leave if he wishes.

It is a brilliant model. Many of the boys go onto university. One beautiful young man I met–Manuel–has shadowed a doctor for 10 years, and is now providing medical services for the school and the nearby village, while attending university in dentistry…and I think my life can be busy! Every day he commutes four hours to and from Maputo.

Manuel and Ida at Casa Gaiato

Manuel and Ida at Casa Gaiato

Ida and her husband Jose picked me up early Sunday morning, and we arrived about two hours later during the church service. A stunning open air building carved right from the rock it sits on. All the boys were there, as were the girls from the nearby village. I tried to sneak in quietly and sit in the back, but most were very curious, and kept sneaking peeks back at us. Check out a short clip from the serviceAfter church, we met with Father Jose. I gave him the equivalent of about $300 and a bunch of pens. Of course, many of the boys followed us around and were very interested in the four soccer balls! Then we toured the school: the library, infirmary, art workshop, classrooms, and some of the living quarters. Some of the older boys were a little guarded, but I just kept smiling and waving at everyone I made eye contact with, trying to find some way to connect. I tried to speak a little Portuguese and Changaan, which of course they got a real kick out of (in addition to the soccer balls!). If I want to make someone laugh, speaking Changaan seems to do the trick EVERY time!

A young student art teacher at Gaiato

Oasias, A young student art mentor showing off his work at Casa Gaiato. Imagine if he had some training…

We also visited the 2-4 year old house. No one was guarded here. The little toddlers mobbed us as we walked in…smiling and hugging us, trying to find a free arm or leg or anything to grab onto. Then I had lunch with Ida, Jose, Father Jose, and Manuel in the main dining room with all the students. A young boy was hovering around me at the end of the meal, and I felt a special connection with him. I gave him a yin yan necklace and tried to explain what it meant. His little eyes lit up.011

None of the boys “own” their own clothes. Everything is shared and rotated. It makes my wardrobe at home seem gluttonous. I will leave some of the clothes I brought to Mozambique, which I’m sure will also make my wife happy.

It was truly a perfect day, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to do this. Casa du Gaiato is an oasis of goodness and hope in a country where there is not enough of that to go around.

On Tuesday, I visited the second school with Ida, this time on the outskirts of the 045city…Escola Secondaria Forca do Povo. This school is run by Sister Helia, has 3,200 students (boys and girls), and runs morning, afternoon, and evening. In one class I visited, three students share the same desk at one time. This school receives some funding from government, but clearly not enough. Right now the sisters are also feeding and sheltering 400 of the people from Chokwe who lost their homes in the massive floods a few weeks back.

049We went on a short tour, and poked our heads into one of the classes in session. The kids were so friendly, curious, and communicative with me. I guess they must not get many North American visitors! I pinned a small Canada flag emblem on the class leader and she was thrilled.

Then on to outdoor gym class to hand over the soccer balls (see photo at top and video just above). These kids were wide-eyed, smiling, asking questions, giggling, laughing, touching, hugging, and shaking my hand. One even asked me for a signature, and after I signed his notepad, the rest of the class roared with laughter! One girl gave me a big hug and said “welcome to Mozambique.” A real sweetie!061

On the way home Ida brought me to the University where she teaches. She works tirelessly and selflessly and passionately to make Mozambique a better country. She is an inspiration. I asked her about the enormity of what needs to be done here. ”I cannot help everybody, and solve every problem,” she said. ”But I can try to help those in my small circle of life.”

She told me how a colleague of hers was blown up at the university by a letter bomb. Ida was with her just minutes before she opened the letter in a crowded room at the university, actually suggesting she wait til later to open her mail so they could talk. Little did she know at the time that this inadvertent decision would save many lives. Ida has lots of these kinds of stories to tell. She talked to me about the 32,000 students at the university, and how the majority don’t have enough to eat, don’t have electricity, or a desk, or even paper. Despite all of this, and even the poor quality of teaching, they still try to rise above.


Rel and Grishan, feeling a little “tired.”

Saturday I accompanied Mike and a bunch of his biking buddies on a four-hour ride into the hills outside the city. It felt wonderful to be out of the insanity of downtown Maputo. It felt even better not to be biking in 33 c weather! I drove the “support” vehicle for the group, providing fuel and fluids, and helping those who had flat tires. And, it was my first time driving on the left side of the road. Sure glad I was in the country for that experience! It was quite an impressive ride for the young and not so young lads. The halfway point was very close to the Swaziland border, and with my visa just about to expire, I had to leave the country to renew my visa anyway. So I walked across the border and back into Mozambique. But of a complicated process, and I was very happy to have Grishan, one of the local bikers with me. On the way I snapped this 026super cool picture on the side of the road. Love this shot.

Heating up
In other news, and in stark contrast to how I felt during my school visits, I felt myself boiling over on a number of fronts as the work week began.  Ready? The enormity of the challenge before me is becoming more and more obvious. A very different way of working. Reminder after reminder that goes unheeded. Basic systems that are not in place or not followed. Last freakin minute everything. We are holding an international conference next week, and all the key players will be here, so maybe I am feeling some of that as well.The constant lack of courtesy on the roads. Obnoxious, aggressive drivers nearly knocking me over on a daily basis. In the US, they’d surely be shooting each other. Everyone seems to be in a hurry, but for what? Cell phone calls that take precedence over everything it seems, particularly in person meetings or discussions. And virtually no one or nothing operates on time.The dirt. The garbage. The oppressive heat. I’ve been trying to get a few things fixed in my apartment since I arrived, including the AC, but everything seems to be a major problem. One morning this week I was drenched by 8 am. And Monday no AC at the office either.

Sometimes, oftentimes, it feels like trying to push water up a hill. And I don’t speak the language. That is a constant challenge.

All of a sudden I am overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to get out.

Curious that all these things seem to be hitting me all at once. Maybe I’m having a bad day. Maybe it’s cumulative. Maybe being outside of the city for the first time reminded me of a more peaceful existence. Maybe home is calling me stronger now after five weeks. Maybe all of it cascading together into a big pile of yuck.

All of a sudden, I’m not feeling so “flowy.” Jules warned me about this. I need to calm the $%#& down and remind myself that I’m not in Kansas anymore. And switch off the judgment button again. I need to remember all the good things I’ve done and learned in the last few weeks. Good days and bad days are normal. This will pass quickly. Perhaps being in constant hyper awareness and input mode masks that.

I turned it around at the end of a bad Monday when I complemented the cook at the little restaurant across the street on her cooking. Then all the shite above, just faded. Sort of.

I put my head down again on Tuesday and tried not to let it get me down. Same shite, better attitude. Then the visit to the second school. Then one on one practice with Chico, which was powerful. He is a lovely, gentle man. No such thing as ego with Chico. Then some very good results trying to get Mozambican media to cover the conference next week. Who’d have thunk that, eh?010

I am remembering all the good that I have been involved with here, and that there is lots to be grateful for and proud about.

The lesson for me is to accept things as they are, not how I think they should be.

The lesson for the country is to not accept things as they are if things are to change.

‘Til next week,


3 thoughts on “Into Africa–February 21, 2013

  1. You summed it up so well, Jonathan, in your last two sentences about lessons. Really enjoying your posts, by the way. I think Ida is truly an inspiration — ”I cannot help everybody, and solve every problem,” she said. ”But I can try to help those in my small circle of life.” If each of us had this very simple focus, EVERYONE would benefit. Sometimes we don’t have to look any further than the simplest truth. (PS – As I write this, I’m watching a squirrel cling precariously to a tree branch while being buffeted by wind and snow, just to remind you of what you’re missing.) And the mention of your wardrobe provided a flashback to when I returned from Africa. I looked into my well-stocked bedroom closet and burst into tears. I was depressed and discouraged by the materialism that was so evident the moment I arrived back in North America, and the joy of nonattachment I had left behind. Take it all in while you can. Thanks for keeping us posted.

  2. Is that Father Jose Maria on the right of the second picture? In my travels (more like “stays”), I have met the most wonderful humble people, devoting their lives to others with practically no recognition. I would have loved to meet him. Yes, the conditions are a little harsh, but the kid’s smiles tell it all… And when they befriend you, there are no strings attached, no conditions or judgments, just true genuine love for you, as you are…. I’ll never forget that from my stays there, and I try to do the same here but it’s sometimes misunderstood…. Still, I try to practice this love of others as they are, so I guess a part of me became African… And it’s wonderful.

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