A Discussion with Narcisso Mariano Belo, S.J., Administrator, St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School, Tete, Mozambique
June 15, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in June 2017 undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Narcissi Mariano Belo, S.J., an administrator and a Jesuit brother at St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundaria Inácio de Loiola, ESIL) in Tete, Mozambique, as part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship. Belo discusses how the accessibility and affordability of secondary schools can impede education for rural students. He then describes how ESIL, a Jesuit secondary school that primarily serves disadvantaged rural populations, counters these issues, and how he personally advises and relates to students.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
My name is Narcisso Mariano Belo, and I’m a Jesuit brother still in formation. I am here as an administrator and to work on projects in the school. I am here in the Jesuit house.
And how did you discover and come to ESIL?
As a brother you work under the Jesuit superior, in this case the provincial. Three years ago I was in Maputo studying accounting and auditing; this was my specialty and my bachelor’s [degree]. Once I finished in 2014 I spoke with my superior, and he sent me here for this mission to be an administrative assistant under the previous ESIL directors. I have been here since July 2015. In the interim between directors I was actually working alone here as the administrator and overseeing everything about the school. I’ve been here with four directors.
ESIL is a Jesuit school, so what do you think highlights or differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other schools that may be secular or government schools? Do you have examples to show this? How does the Jesuit education affect the culture and mentality of the youth here?
First, people in a Jesuit school having something called Ignation pedagogy. It is a form of education that is very personalized and looks at the students’ personalities and needs. To get to know why they are having certain difficulties. In the morning everyone has class and in the afternoon everyone has obligatory study hours. This makes a difference for the students and in the school. This makes a difference—this is the second year—but we are growing and improving in quality. In ancient times, the Jesuits, who essentially developed education in the plateau of Angonia…many government officials today [in the region] came from schools that were the work of Jesuit schools from the plateau of Angonia.
With the previous director, once he was talking to a student who said he felt good here and asked why he felt good. The student said, “Look, first, I don’t have to pay to pass my classes here. I pass because I know and there is no corruption. The food here [in the boarding house] is good in relation to other boarding houses that exist at government schools.”
We also have a curriculum and program of extracurricular activities that are not just academic subjects such as biology but other things that the students can explore. We have activities such as soccer and civic classes about two or three times per semester where we talk about sexuality, pregnancy, and things that they need to know because in the culture here, nobody will talk about that. It’s a bit complicated and another problem [here]. These are things that really make a difference.
What do you think are distinct challenges or opportunities that indigenous students face in the local education systems in Mozambique? And if you can give examples, they would be useful.
The challenge of academic material. Also auto-sustainability, because high schools have difficulty being sustainable.
Also having access to schools. When this school came in the middle of nowhere it came to a place where the students had nowhere to go after they finished studying tenth grade. But when there is a school nearby they will continue to study. I know many students personally who do not continue to study because it is far and difficult to travel to the village for school each day. This is a big challenge—to have access to education. Also if it is very expensive nobody will go to school, and some people who are literally from the fields will have trouble going to [and paying for higher education].
In terms of opportunities, this is a really rich zone in the plateau of Angonia that is very fertile. This is why ESIL tries to give more opportunities to study agriculture. The students learn new sustainable techniques and techniques that cost less. Agriculture is a way to have a way of making a living. So the school tries to develop new techniques to help the students with this and make them see that it is possible to make something better out of this.
So how does ESIL try to resolve these various challenges we have discussed?
We have a project that brought students here and there is another part of this project that is connected to the Jesuits here. So maybe if you have one child in school, it can open [the community] up more.
Also in our school you don’t pay because it is called a community school and the teachers are paid by the government. All of the students who are orphans have a certificate that they are in a state of poverty and they don’t have to pay. But practically everyone can pay the cost we have. Pretty much everyone’s parents can pay the small fee we have for administrative costs of the school—there is hardly anyone who can’t pay it. Technically if someone can’t pay after 15 days I have to send them away, but I am unable to do this to the students, so we find a way and arrange for someone to pay for [their school costs]...maybe volunteers.
How is ESIL involved with the indigenous community in this surrounding area?
I think that just by being here, in the surrounding area it is involved and helps a lot. We are currently in construction now and we contract builders who are from the neighboring villages around ESIL to work here. We also have a part that helps women who help with the sand used to construct the buildings here, and we also buy from local people instead of from others. And also people bring stones here. So almost everything is related to the people near here.
Our field of production is really small for the school. We buy vegetables such as tomatoes, greens, and such from the nearby agricultors for a good price.
What do you think is the attitude and reception of people in this area to ESIL? And what influences this?
Very good. They are really grateful to us for having a school here. First because of the access—one more school that their children can attend.
The first schools that the Jesuits made here became government schools. Now we have created new ones and it is really well received to have these.
What is the connection between ESIL and Satemwa and the orphanages?
There is a big connection. ESIL takes in the orphans most of the time. Satemwa has classes about livestock and animals that some students in ESIL go to. Also Satemwa receives our students for retreats and other types of civic formation.
What does social justice mean for you?
I think it would be a question of distribution in terms of general resources and opportunities to have a divided equilibrium on the level of society. Some need more and some need less and some need nothing. But justice is something that is really poorly understood, and social justice for me is not to give the same rock to everyone, who might already have it, but let’s say someone doesn’t have a bed and needs a bed, give it to them. For example, let’s say Pedro already has a bed and shoes. Joaquin doesn’t have a bed or shoes and only a carpet. So we have to see—if you want to give a bed to Pedro, he doesn’t really need one.
What is the relation between the concepts of education, social justice, development, and religion, and which is the most important concept to you in your work here?
For me the most importance is education. Because with education you will make a difference and you will achieve social justice. Which is exactly what is happening here. We installed the classes and we gave access to the students. With economic development, we gave jobs to people in the area for the school construction, and now they are making a minimum wage for that. Only education really moves all of this. Education is everything and transforms everything and colonizes the man. Everything is in the sight of being a human.
And where do you personally think you can contribute to this social justice and community development vision of ESIL?
Yesterday after Mass I was talking to two students. We were conversing about problems they were having including malaria. They had heard that malaria was a result of the cold and that a doctor had told them that, and as a result the student did not want to wake up early in the mornings because the doctor said the cold would give them malaria. Mostly because he wanted to sleep in later. But we were talking about many things.
When we started to talk about sex and relationships, I was telling them to be careful. One student was asking why he should not experiment with sex now. He is 16 or 17 years old. It is important to spend time thinking about studies now.
So I can contribute by talking to them about these things and helping to answer their questions. I talk a lot with the youth and they talk to me about a lot of things that they don’t with other people, such as the father, because they are not comfortable talking to him about certain topics. I am younger and more familiar and so they are closer to me. “Brother, I have a problem with my girlfriend. What do I do now?” So I give advice and I am confident that I have a certain influence on the students.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here at ESIL?
Our own construction workers, because they work so hard and it is difficult. They don’t have a lot in life and nothing comes easy—we have to work. I was teaching an entrepreneurship class last year for students, and I had to teach them that nothing falls from the sky.
I like knowing that my contribution can help other people—it gives me great joy to see the new building being completed and students having classes in there.
What are some things you learned in your time here that helped you do your job better?
I am here to take care of a lot of things—construction, the school…these are things I did not know how to do three years ago. Also how to relate to the construction worker and how to understand the other—one of the most difficult things. It is easy to act like the boss of someone. But how to listen and understand another’s ideas is really delicate. With someone that has a high level of professionalism or a child—if you don’t stimulate the child and listen to him, he will not progress.
I remember when I was in the language institute learning English in Maputo there was a girl who always had a different way of thinking and doing things. This showed me that listening to her rather than fighting or disagreeing helped me a lot. Listening, and trying to perceive.
How did the colonial past and the colonial and civil wars affect this area? The political landscape, the landscape of education and social justice, the students and communities here, and your family personally.
These wars affected racism that lasts until today. In the social part, to be white is to be superior and to be black is very incapacitating. In the political part, the natives who assumed power after independence were not highly educated by their own colonizers. They could not study more than the fourth grade. This was one of the most horrible ways that people were stigmatized. And they were taught this and carried it throughout their lives. When the white people left, the people left in power were the black people who had only studied a little. So it affected the education here. So the person on top is the person who has money, and it shows that you can do whatever you want if you have money whether or not you are competent—the same things that the white colonizers did. So this is very complicated and dense.
My family situation is very complicated. My parents don’t exist—when I say my mother and father I am referring to my maternal grandparents, who adopted me. They never went to school. In this plateau the school is in Vila Ulongue, which is where my primary school is, originally a school for the white people who lived in the plateau in the colonial times. But I studied in this school. After a while my parents fled for Malawi.
My parents were not affected directly by the civil war. They were in the village and that was protected. My father was a soldier in the military. There was so much destruction. It was not safe.
But nobody from my family died as a direct result of the war.
What are ways that you would improve education in Mozambique in general? How do you think that ESIL can continue to improve?
I don’t agree with many things that people say. I don’t think the problem is with the system of education but with the people who are in the system of education. When people say that the system is flawed, I think it is corruption and things like passing by paying teachers. The problem is not the system but that individual professors do this. To be a teacher, this has to be your calling—you have to have feeling and passion to teach. It should not be your last alternative to make money. Imagine that you start training and you hate it. To be trained as a teacher, paying to pass is really sad. Teachers should have pride [in their work].
I think ESIL should take the agricultural component more seriously because of course we are doing more than other schools are.
Do you have ideas about how to make the agricultural component of ESIL more self-sufficient?
Well first, the 20 hectares of land is not sufficient. Three-quarters of the school land is a fertile land for the field and there is a great need to sustain this. They can increase this space.
There are also things like internet and things we want that will come, and right now it is a process that we are waiting for. More infrastructure. And teachers that continue to be serious and are committed.
What do you see as the future role of Jesuit education and other Jesuit institutions in Mozambique?
I think this is a typical Jesuit school. I think we are here to stay forever and the future. I think the plan in the near future is an institute of higher education and a university—that is the project that we are working on. We have to have this possibility of having a university. We have some land in Beira, and we have an opportunity to build something new there. Maputo has many universities but none are Jesuit.