A Discussion with Lúcia Isaac Paulo, Student at St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School, Tete, Mozambique
June 29, 2017
Background: In June 2017, as part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Lúcia Isaac Paulo, a student at St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundaria Inácio de Loiola, ESIL) in Tete, Mozambique. Paulo discusses the challenges of teaching Portuguese to native Chichewa speakers like herself and her peers, and she explains how the school could improve its language program. She also reflects on her experiences and the education system at large as she describes the social and political climate and the education systems in her area.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
I am Lúcia, and I am 21 years old. I am an orphan, and I live with my grandmother, who lives in Fonte Boa, where I studied tenth grade. Before that I studied in Beira. I have seven siblings, and one of my siblings who is older stopped studying, while another is in tenth grade. I don’t have siblings here, but I have cousins. I speak Chichewa. In the past I went to a private school in Beira called St. Joseph that was a secondary school.
ESIL is a Jesuit school, so what do you think differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other schools that may be secular or government schools?
The difference is really big. Because with state schools, many of them use corruption. It also depends on the students there, the amount of violence that happens in the school. It’s not like here. Here we have professors who are well-trained, who are worried a lot about us, and they want the best for us and are not being deceptive—it’s really good. We are not studying like it is a joke here. It’s really nice to study here and have friends and professors here with us.
What are specific examples of things you’ve seen at state schools different from here?
There is much more corruption. Students can pay money to pass classes. Here, it’s not like that—each person passes based on what they do. If you don’t know, or behave well, you won’t pass.
What do you think are distinct challenges or opportunities that indigenous students face in the local education systems? And if you can give examples, they would be useful.
There are a lot. Each person does what’s best for them. First is that people want to try to be independent to try and help their families. So people each do their things differently. Here we have a good education; in school we can learn from our friends, too. It’s hard to try and fight to be better. Between ourselves, we all share—“I got a 16,” “I got an 18” [exam grades, out of 20]—and we all fight to better than each other. Not to be better than each other, but to help each other improve.
Another thing is that my group is me and my three friends. They are a bit sick. It’s difficult. They had to leave [the school and go home], one for Cabo Delgado, another to Beira, and another to Nampula.
Can you talk a little about the challenge of the Portuguese language that students face?
We came here to learn. To learn something, gain an advantage. To gain self-confidence, and learn how to speak. We might encounter people who don’t know, but they might want to learn, and rather than thinking that I am better them, I should help them learn so they can get to the same level as me. We learn Portuguese first as students to communicate in various provinces and countries, where if we go and say that we speak Chichewa, nobody will understand. Everyone seems to want to learn it, but they don’t practice it….Each person has their own way of learning things. Some say that if you try to teach or help them, they say that you think you are much better than them or at a higher level because you speak Portuguese and are trying to help them. But that’s not true. The intention is that we want to help, and have the will that they know Portuguese too, but they don’t understand.
Do you think there is a resistance by some to learning Portuguese? Why?
Yes. I think it’s really complicated. Because they grew up in a zone that mostly speaks in the dialect. They don’t have the will to go to other provinces or see the environment and be a little more open. This limits them. That’s not good. Not everyone knows, but whatever little a person has, it needs to be shared. If someone knows something and tries to ask questions, they should ask and learn whatever they can.
What do you want to be/study when you grow up?
I would like to work in a university and see how I can help. I want to study how to be a nurse who works in the hospital and helps deliver babies.
How do you think the mother tongue of Chichewa and other local mother tongues make it difficult for others who come here and don’t speak Chichewa to integrate into the community?
Everyone here can speak Chichewa well—first they need the will to learn and get close to people and ask them questions: “How do you say this [in Chichewa]?” to improve. That’s how we learn Portuguese, asking “How do you say this in Portuguese?” but it depends on the will of each individual.
Do you think there is a difference in the ability to speak Portuguese between the boarding house students and those who live elsewhere?
In the boarding school for the most part we speak Chichewa. I try to sometimes speak some things in Portuguese, but others always respond in Chichewa. So it’s difficult. And I ask why they don’t respond in Portuguese, and they tease me about acting superior. It’s difficult and complicated though—I wouldn’t have been able to interview with you if I didn’t speak Portuguese and only spoke Chichewa, for example.
The language and culture of Chichewa are really strongly connected. How can students celebrate their culture and preserve it while also learning Portuguese?
It’s complicated. As a student we learn in Portuguese, but we can’t hide our mother tongue. In this case I can say that it’s complicated to use both. In our houses, our families can’t always speak Portuguese and it’s difficult to use both; also because some things that we can say in Chichewa don’t translate well to Portuguese. It’s difficult to take things seriously, especially when we’re in groups with our friends. For example, with being cursed, that is something that exists in our culture that doesn’t exist in the Portuguese culture. There is a weak mentality. We try to think of good things to do better, but there is an idea that if we do something good our bodies will be good, and if we do something wrong there will be a sort of weight on our bodies. The intention is to do well. But when we do poorly [on exams] we feel sad and weak.
The difficulty in learning Portuguese is not in the course—the professors explain it to us in a good manner, but it’s a lack of understanding. After the professor explains something and leaves the class, we can’t help each other entirely even if we try to explain it to each other. Some words are difficult. When we ask, “Professor, what does this mean?” it will help if he explains it well to us. It’s hard to take notes sometimes, too—for the most part we wake up and between sunrise and sunset we are up and working or studying and speaking in Chichewa. So it’s complicated. It’s not easy. But each person needs to have their own desire to learn.
Do you have any ideas for extracurricular programs that can help you do this?
In the beginning of the trimester we had people who wanted to help us with pronouncing Portuguese better, but they are no longer here. They were people who chose to teach, but many people here did not show interest; once it came to the extra time to practice, they didn’t show up. People need to be able to converse and respond to questions in Portuguese, but they did not show up. They said, “We will learn!” but they didn’t actually do it. Each person has to have their own motivation. Some people have the idea that we are from here, so we don’t need to learn [Portuguese].
How does ESIL try to deal with this challenge?
Before coming here [at other schools], if you spoke your mother tongue there would be a punishment. We had a punishment. In the first school I saw, in the city, they spoke Portuguese more, and they don’t speak the dialect. But here in a more rural zone it’s different, and we need to have the will to learn more and hear what others say. People can’t get in their heads and tell themselves they can’t do it or that they are not capable. Because then they never will. Until now the language is like this—communicate, scream, greet each other—but in Portuguese, it’s not so easy.
How do you think ESIL is involved with the community nearby around the area?
Normally the school is in a location to help us [the people] because not all of us have the capacity to travel far to the cities to study, so we’re here. It helps because for the most part in this zone people have not studied, and they have the mindset that they don’t have money or schools. So in this district of Tsangano, they don’t have many funds to spend on the city that are important to benefit us in the future, so the school came to facilitate this a bit that had the possibility to be improved.
What was the reception like of ESIL in the community?
Normally it’s a bit complicated. The intention was to improve people to have an open mind and we have tried to show how to improve, to show their talents, to help them know a bit about the world around us much more than this. The school helps by teaching a bit about countries that we have never heard of but one day will see. We can learn many things. It is a really good school in a really good site. We are thankful for the school because otherwise we would have to travel so far. So the school is in a zone where many use the mother tongue and there is no other secondary school nearby. So we have everything we need to learn, but not everyone values that. Some people are still playing and joking; not everyone, but still. The school is here to help us as best as they can despite not having everything they need.
How do you think that ESIL can continue to improve? If you could change three things without limitation?
First, language, for everyone, should be Portuguese. Because we are not capable of remembering everything, and we won’t forget our mother tongue. There are some days a student wakes up without saying a word of Portuguese, which is sad, because we are students here to learn.
Second, there is a lot of violence between us. Not as much here, because we have rules that we have to follow well, even though we’re not all the same. But in the village there is a lot more.
Third, we have to try to study and have a group for us to study. What little a person has, we should share it with others.
What does social justice mean for you?
I can say that it is a defense that we have; for example if there is a misunderstanding, and one person is wrong but can’t explain that to another, there is a tendency to reconcile. To have a conscience and understand the loss of the other and be willing to accept when they are wrong. To try to ask for pardon, and live in a harmonious society with care between us, not just for our family, but to treat well and love others too.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here at ESIL? Or a happy moment that you enjoyed here?
All of the moments are happy here. I was really happy to arrive here and find friends. Because we see each other as humans and it doesn’t matter to me what the age is—they can be 14, 15…
For example, the way that Professor David is with us, always talking to us, happy, treating us with care. I try to be open and not feel a weight as a way to combat the sickness I have. If a person needs help I try to help them. Here, it is fun, to play and joke. One moment was when the class representative came and it is an inspiration to see her. The jokes never stop here. It is really good. We don’t have to choose what is bad or good. And the supervisor of the boarding house has a good manner and when we are wrong, he takes a method to try to talk to them like a parent and show them that we shouldn’t do wrong to each other because we are like siblings. I know that we are here as a group and we should have respect amongst us.
How did the colonial past and the colonial war affect this area? The political landscape, the landscape of education and social justice, and the students and communities here.
Normally education is good, but it depends on our perspective. It’s more in our memory of jokes, and we know it wasn’t a favorable path for us. In older times it was stronger, but now we have a great opportunity to study. But our ancestors didn’t study as a result of the colonial war, and they went until fourth grade but not even until tenth grade, or to university or jobs. Also in older times the women didn’t work because they took care of the house and their children, and whenever their husband asked something they had to do it. But we study, work, and divide our time, so it’s not just with the house and kids, but depending on us, if we are in a good situation, we try to do something better. We are grateful, and should not treat each other poorly as in the past when people were mistreated. We are thankful for what we have and also recognize what is good and what is wrong. Even if your neighbor doesn’t have the same blood as you, you should try to respect and understand them and spend time with them in a good way. But people still insist this exists and don’t want to lift it above their heads and act better than the past.
We have some people in this zone who still don’t want to study, and just want to work. Their families don’t want them to study, but this limits the child, and they grow up not wanting to study. It’s not easy to educate a child and do the best. But I am trying to do my best.
How did the civil war affect this area and your family? Do you think the recent tensions have affected this area or education?
We lost many things, and they had to leave for Malawi (my grandparents). I can say that war is not a good thing for anybody. We have to govern amongst ourselves and find a way to reach an accord. We are capable since we are many, but the war still continues, and we have a feeling that we are all Mozambicans, a sense of national pride, but everyone [the politicians] wants their own power and they only think about themselves. If they think a bit about us, they will realize the past and current suffering. We have advanced a little with technology and conscience, and with everything we have overcome in recent years until now. We should try to defend and reunite within Mozambique and come to a new accord. Without this, I don’t know, because we won’t come to an accord. Now there are some men who call themselves police, but they beat people, and it is not clear whether they are there to help. In this zone with flour, beans, etc. that we supplement ourselves, everything that is not consumed, we sell it, but we have little money.
When the war started and people had to flee, it became complicated and sad, and I hope that one day we can come to a new accord that leads to better development.
In 2013, 2014, and 2015, until now, they are working on it. Not everyone is part of RENAMO or FRELIMO; there are some who are not part of either party. They started killing innocent people, because they knew one of the sides would leave and they could kill them. We will arrive at an accord to reconcile and have harmony between them. They say that they won’t stop doing certain things. There are many orphans, too. War is not a good thing and it affects everyone.
Do you feel safe here at the school?
Normally, in the beginning, no. Because we know the war starts in the rural areas and ends in the cities. It is easier to hide in rural areas. We had students who wanted to leave here to be with their mother or father because if something happens here, nobody knows where they will go, and the parents will be worried in the house about where their children are, and many students come here [to ESIL] from far away and can’t return home quickly. We all have fear when we hear about things in certain districts and become worried. When we watch television on Fridays, we listen to the news a bit to hear what is going on. We are not fearful, but we are trying to ignore our fear and look forward.
Is there anything else you think would be helpful for me to know about these themes?
When we are fighting amongst ourselves, and don’t have peace within the country, it’s really difficult for other countries to help us. They will help other countries that are less violent. So it is not a good thing.