A Discussion with Etelvino Osvaldo Daniel, French Teacher, St. Ignatius Loyola Secondary School, Tete, Mozambique
June 20, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in June 2017 undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Etelvino Osvaldo Daniel, a French teacher at St. Ignatius Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundária Inácio de Loyola, ESIL), a Jesuit secondary school in Mozambique that primarily serves disadvantaged rural students. Daniel discusses the differences between Jesuit and secular schools in Mozambique and the conflict between conducting classes in Portuguese and preserving students' pride for their native languages. Daniel also reflects on his personal experiences as a teacher at ESIL.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
This is my first time teaching in this province. I am living far away from my family, not because I don’t like them, but because I feel like when you are far away, and you face challenges, you find new dynamics outside of my nuclear family. My family lives in the Manica province, in the Gondola district. I stay in touch with them on the telephone, visit during the holidays. I left home in 2016 but since then the people around me have been very friendly. I would like to become a priest and undergo that formation.
Here, I am a teacher of French. I like it a lot, and I’m happy because I like languages.
What do you think differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other schools that may be secular or government schools?
It starts with the orientation: it is a school that is religious- Christian. So some of the values that we pass on in formation are religious. So it focuses on humanism and learning the situation of the other. I think another thing that differentiates it is resources, and that the patrons or investors in other schools, such as private ones, are not as interested in educating the students; they are sometimes more interested in making money that creating a quality education. They just want more clients. But the Jesuit family is not worried about making money, but about imparting values, and developing the talents of the teachers and students.
Another difference is that the school wants to satisfy the wishes of its collaborators, including teachers. It tries to give the people involved more power within the structure of the school, including its own students. So the students are happy. I can see a certain joy and satisfaction among them, in their studies, and in living together.
Another thing that is unique to the Jesuits is that the school work is very hard. There is little possibility for a person to stop working. That’s what differentiates it from other schools. In a public school in the village, for example, I’ve heard that the students don’t study or do work. I don’t want to say all schools, since this is my first experience in a Jesuit school, but I think it just gives a lot of humanism and builds values amongst the students and teaches that God wants good for us, for you and me. In the city outside of rural areas, students are very undisciplined and caught up in their own lives.
I was lucky to study within the church system. I studied at the University of St. Thomas (Universidade São Tomás) in Maputo, which is a Catholic school, and I studied philosophy, and also French because I like languages.
What is your mother tongue?
My mother tongue is called Chiute.
Do you also speak Chichewa?
No, I am still learning. They are all Bantu languages, close to each other. So sometimes we can understand each other a little, a few words that others speak, although of course there are always differences. I’ve come across two people here who speak it. I can speak a bit of Shona also. The language is typical of Manica, and its capital, Chimoio, in the Gondola district, and is also called Tewe. There are many languages in Mozambique.
In terms of ethnicity, I would say we are a humble people, and we aren’t very adventurous. But now with globalization, people are starting to move around more to different provinces and areas of the world. Studies are a reason, and better opportunities. This still has to be reinforced, and the fear of going far away needs to be extinguished.
What do you think are distinct challenges or opportunities that indigenous students face in the local education systems?
So as you know I was in Maputo and Manica. Since they are bigger cities, they have more work opportunities. There are language centers and more universities and opportunities to study there. The challenge of studying in cities is that there is a greater population. But they are also more open, and people speak foreign languages better in cities. There are just more opportunities in every moment. In Mozambique, and also probably in the rest of Africa, the rural part has more difficulties. There aren’t as many churches, and things the government tries to galvanize just are very difficult because there are less resources. In the cities this isn’t the case, and there is more resources for the students at universities, for example. In terms of language, there is just more learning, and the minds of the youth are more open in the cities. For example, a student in the city could get access to a computer and look up something, which gives him more ambition. He will have more ambition to know and learn more and be able to communicate better.
This is different from the rural parts. In the rural parts, women are still expected to marry, and studying isn’t very easy for them. It’s easy for them to stop going to school here when it becomes difficult. In the city that’s not the same. The conditions don’t favor them here.
And what do you think about the question of the Portuguese language in this education system?
It is a really worrying situation. It is a difficult because it is a super grand and very complex situation. In the rural areas, at home parents speak in the mother tongue, and the child speaks in this because it was his/her first language. The students learn Portuguese in school. These students that come from the rural areas learn Portuguese as a method of dialogue, but are not accustomed to the pronunciation and such and should use methods such a songs and music in school to learn it better. The students need to have more contact with the language. They speak the mother tongue at home, come to school and the teacher speaks in Portuguese, but then they go home and speak in the mother tongue again.
Students should be more communicative and proud of their language. It should not be seen as less civilized to speak in the mother tongue. Portuguese is not the only civilized language. If that is the logic, it will be a disadvantage and make them distant, and there will be a sort of resistance by everyone. The resistance is not something they try, but it is difficult to learn Portuguese. There are students in the eighth grade or ninth grade who don’t know how to speak Portuguese.
For example, it would not be possible for me to study in the United States if I did not speak English. So learning another language opens up opportunities for them. In the boarding house they speak some English, and this gives them more contact with other foreign things.
So with this language barrier you’ve mentioned, how does ESIL try to resolve this?
By creating a strategy that is probable to teach Portuguese. It’s difficult. I have had some experience with communicating with people who don’t speak Portuguese well but speak Shona in border areas. So we should try to have classes alone, where we try to have organized classes in Portuguese that teach poetry, music, singing, etc. and maybe even give out prizes to motivate students. That’s a big wish I have to try to teach Portuguese a little better. Maybe on Fridays we give students an opportunity to perform something in Portuguese: a poem, jokes, songs, in some way, it will create this friendly environment and open them up to learn Portuguese better. And maybe through that they can also have opportunities to respect their own languages also. Maybe even give Chichewa classes so they can learn their own language better.
Some people think that will make it worse and harder for them to learn Portuguese if we also teach and maintain the local language. But I don’t think so. And with the Friday performances I mentioned earlier; others can perform in English, others in Spanish, others in French, and make them comfortable with using and hearing different languages and build more cultural richness. For example, in the past as I grew my own friendship with others, I became more comfortable and felt more capable myself and realized I could make others happy and bring that to others through the spirit of “I can.” This is a desire I have here.
Why did you choose to work at ESIL?
It wasn’t necessarily a choice—more of a coincidence. I have always been in a Catholic family, so I have had a lot of contact with priests and always felt connected in some way to the church and people in it. When I was contacted by the founder of ESIL, I was at a cathedral in Tete, and they spoke very highly about the Jesuits there, so I was curious. And it worked out, because it was a job I needed, and I was very grateful. I saw how there is a familiarity here, and I get a profound happiness from it.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here at ESIL?
With the students, it’s their simplicity. I also like the people from Angonia here, the Cinyanja people, in a general way. Some people have a fear of others, but I don’t have that. When I first arrived, I felt a little dislocated, a little alone, because this place is really isolated. But there is a lot of respect here between people, and I like this. There is a familiarity here, and I feel like I’ve been well received here. And with my colleagues, there is a great coexistence and solidarity here that inspires me. Also the mission and praying is important to me. I like to pray, and this component of praying helps me through difficulties. I also like to have fun here; I like to converse and play with the others. With the boarding house, I like to make jokes to the students and to make them laugh. With the work, what inspires me is volunteers. And seeing the improvement of my own teaching in French. At first I was nervous, but slowly after thinking about how make it more clear to students, with the help of volunteers, it has facilitated my form in teaching French better. Now I’m more calm and satisfied in teaching the students. Also the availability of the director that we have here. I presented a poem here in French at a dinner with the director. In this way that he believed in me, it reinforced to me that I am capable. So my growth here has been my happiness.
How did the colonial past and the colonial and civil wars affect this area? The landscape of education and social justice, and the communities here.
Education during colonialism was not very open. There were only missions where priests could study. So you had to be lucky to be born near a mission, and if you were that was a great privilege. But people who were far from missions did not have possibilities. Which is a little sad, right? It was a loss. And women could not study much. There was a machismo, and women were seen as meant to stay in the house. This is a little sad, because the education of women is also important. If my mother didn’t study, what would be the effect on my life? There is a feeling of sadness always in the background around this issue. The education of parents has an effect on the education of the following generations. So education for women needs to be more open. It has a great possibility to improve life of all. If my mother, sister, and wife all can work and study, that is good.
With the civil war, the first thing was social destruction. I don’t think the effects are as strong now. There has been a bit of turbulence, but I’m not sure that we can call that civil war now. The last year there were some attacks on the highway. Bur it doesn’t have as great of an influence anymore. It is not in a form that is very significant any longer. Families left more and more from the rural areas to the cities, and this creates a different type of life. There is more crime and criminality and robberies because there is unemployment. This immigration to cities creates a form of government and there are more opportunities and schools and jobs in the cities. So people think cities are better. It’s a place where you can find American people, English people, Japanese people, etc.