This post narrates glimpses of development work of VSO Mozambique. However, this is written in individual capacity and VSO Mozambique does not necessarily endorse the viewpoint. Names of individuals and places are either not mentioned or changed. If you want to know more about VSO, click here or here .
We turn right leaving behind a busy National Highway. As usual, with such turns the world around changes. The read earth road is stretched up to the horizon and after every ten minutes we see some people resting at the roadside. The interior villages have a road, but almost no public transport; so people walk for hours and rest when they get tired.
We take a left turn, then another right. There is the primary school. After examinations, there was a week-long vacation. It is the first working day after the vacation, so we do not expect all the students in the school. Still 10-15 girls and boys surround us. Their eyes shine to see a stranger amongst them, and they are not shy. One kid is almost touching me. I bend forward to talk to him- in broken Portuguese. He is studying in second grade and has three text books. I open one book and ask him about the pictures in the book. He narrates. Then I ask him to read a line for me. He says, “I can’t read” and further declares, “no one in my class can read.” He is such an honest kid. Everybody laughs.
We meet the Deputy Director of the school. From each school, six girls from grade six are chosen as Lead Girls (LGs). VSO is arranging a two days residential training for LGs (39 schools in 7 districts of Manica Province). The team is visiting the home of each LG and explaining the objective of the district level training and of course seeking permission of the parents.
Maria is one of the LGs and she knows house of the other LG, whose name we mention first. Deputy Director accompanies us enthusiastically. Mozambique struggles with poor school infrastructure. After visiting every school, my admiration for Mozambican primary teachers increases. But that is another story.
The road narrows down and after 15 minutes, we have to leave the car and walk. We continue walking for 30 minutes – by habit I keep on checking my watch to know how much this girl Rosa has to walk every day.Rosa walks at least one hour every day to reach the school and another hour to return home. The road is lonely; it cuts across fields and little forest; it is not plain road but has ups and downs as the terrain is a small range of hillocks.
After reaching Rosa’s home we see eight children – age 12 to 1. Boys bring a mat (for women) and chair (for the teacher- a man) and the elder one goes to call his father. These are local chairs. I like the creativity.
And yes, they are very comfortable.
Rosa comes. She did not go to school today. She says she had headache; but actually she is working in the farm. If I had to walk every day for two hours, would I have been interested in studying – I ask myself.
The question is hypothetical for me, but it helps me to be in the shoes of Rosa. By the way, I have noted that Maria is walking with us without shoes; and I don’t know whether Rosa has shoes.
The father comes; his children surround him. He has five sons and five daughters – three daughters are married. I want to ask their age, but do not ask. The visit has other objective. This is the first visit to Rosa’s home and certainly not the last; I can ask more questions in the next visit.
The teacher introduces us, explains about the training, my colleague elaborates further. The father is happy to send Rosa to the district headquarters; which is about 70 kilometers from the village. We are arranging to pick up the girls and drop them back after the training. “Actually there is no budget for sending a car,” my colleague had reminded me early this morning. But we don’t want these girls to first walk for hours and then wait for more hours for public transport which is being run by individuals as private business. Safety of girls is our prime responsibility.
I am also concerned about whether Rosa wants to participate in the training or not. Rosa is taking care of a young child. I whisper (I have to often do this because I do not speak Portuguese well and do not understand local languages!) to my colleague whether it is Rosa’s sibling or her child. I have seen many 12-13 year mothers here, so the anxiety. I sigh with relief when I learn that this is her baby brother. Rosa and Maria are smiling together. Rosa says, “Father has given permission, I want to come.” She knows she is LG and knows that there are five more LGs in her school. I am feeling good.
The mother arrives. I ask my colleague to explain the whole discussion to the mother. My colleague says, “Traditionally as Head of the Family, the father has the authority to share the information with his family. If he does not introduce us to her, we cannot talk to his wife. ” – Hmm! I am a woman too.
I respect traditions and culture. As an insider, I have always rebelled against discriminatory traditions (in my country). But as an outsider, I cannot rebel. However, I can take a little liberty; I can push the boundary a little further. Here my ignorance of local customs can contribute to my cause. So, when we are ready to leave; I approach the mother and tell her briefly about the training. She smiles. She did not participate in the decision about her daughter, but at least I try to keep her informed.
In the meantime, the father tells something to one of the boys and he comes with a basket of Tangerine – a gift for us, the guests. As a good guest, I put some money in the hands of mother; it is not cost of Tangerine; but a small return gift. May be that too is a tradition, because she accepts it without hesitation.
May be, I should not hurry labeling this father; he seems a kind person with understanding. He is instrumental in the continuation of Rosa’s education. It is possible that he is just following the custom and tradition by not inviting his wife to discuss with us. We are actually on the same path; the apparent gap can be bridged. I am sure, once he trusts us, these barriers will be broken and new opening would emerge.
to be continued