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A Discussion with Tiago Lopes Baptista Salazar, Manager of Seeds of Tomorrow Jesuit Orphanages, Mozambique

With: Tiago Lopes Baptista Salazar

June 17, 2017

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, In June 2017 undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Tiago Lopes Baptista Salazar, the volunteer manager of the Seeds of Tomorrow (Sementes de Amanhã) project's six Jesuit orphanages in Mozambique. The orphanages provide children with necessities and seek to send them to the Jesuit secondary school St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundaria Inácio de Loiola, ESIL). In the interview, Salazar describes the schooling of orphans in a district within the Tete province of Mozambique. He specifically discusses the logistics of teaching Portuguese to these students, the linguistic challenges they face, and issues of preserving the indigenous culture.

Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community?

I am Tiago Salazar, and I am working in Satemwa, a training center in Tsangano district in the province of Tete in Mozambique. My project is with orphan children, called Seeds of Tomorrow. I’ve been here for a period of three months, and my job is a management role. I manage six houses, each of which has 10 orphan children, children anywhere between the ages of one to the eighth grade, trying to transform the system of these houses, sending food to the houses, sending hygienic materials, to help with education. All the needs that help with the growth of children. There are 10 children in each house and two women in each house who are responsible for the children during their time in the house. We visit them and give them individual attention, but we can’t be there all the time, so we have these women who are always there the entire them with the children. We have six or seven more children who are in the boarding house in Fonte Boa, who can go to school, and receive the same attention as the orphanage houses; we pay for their material, give them hygienic material, clothes, etc., and so we have six of those children in Fonte Boa and 11 in ESIL. So they can stay in the orphanage houses until the eighth grade and then we try to send them to school, and our goal is for all of them to come to ESIL, with its Jesuit focus.

Can you explain what Fonte Boa is to me?

Fonte Boa is a mission that is located in Tsangano, close to the training center in Satemwa, and is also a Jesuit community, with a parish, a house for priests, and many local Mozambicans who live in that community also. And there is a school in Fonte Boa. Fonte Boa is a mission, but it has various parts—the parochial part, the church, etc. and the part of the school that is close to Satemwa. It is a little different from a school like ESIL because it also has the parochial part and lives in conjunction with the community that already lives there; the Jesuit center was constructed in the middle of that community that lives here in Mozambique, to give support, etc.

And how did you find this project?

I found it through a friend of mine from Porto, because I’m from Porto, who was connected to this project through another Portuguese project called Grão, and I got connected to this, and this Grão project sends Portuguese university students to different African countries to support Jesuit projects. And so I found out about this project last summer and came to Mozambique to this project to work with orphan children, I got into contact with the priest at Satemwa and presented my ideas to him and then I came here to do this project with the children.

And for you, what differentiates Jesuit education and institutions from secular ones?

I think the main example is ESIL. Fonte Boa works relatively well, but ESIL works really well; even better when compared to basic schools, ignoring the fact that ESIL is a secondary school. I visited some schools close by here in Tsangano and Angonia, which are schools integrated into villages. First, the materials are really below the level of the Jesuit school ESIL; they don’t have as much financing and support from the Mozambican government as do Jesuit schools from the Jesuits. The level of teaching here, especially in this zone in Tsangano and Angonia—and it’s not all like this because not all teachers are like this—but there exists a bit of lack of social responsibility for the children. Because Portuguese, which is essential as the official language of Mozambique, which has more than 20 dialects, is not taught, or is not taught very much, and they have classes mainly in the local dialect—in this case Chichewa in Tsangano—and in this way the Jesuit schools do a much better job in the teaching of Portuguese. Other schools teach very little Portuguese. 

Mainly with this subject there is a greater worry on the part of Jesuit schools to give the tools needed to open up possibilities. A child that doesn’t know Portuguese, or at least minimally good Portuguese, will never leave here, and will never pursue professional jobs or leave Tsangano, because if they want to go to Maputo or Beira, where they don’t speak the same local dialect, it won’t ever happen. In this Jesuit school I think children speak Portuguese more than others and less Chichewa, where in other schools they basically only speak Chichewa.

What do you think are other challenges or opportunities that students have in the local education systems?

Okay, so in local education systems, another challenge is there exists this rule that teachers have to pass at least 80 percent of their students, for example. Which doesn’t make sense to anyone, because the students don’t have the capability to pass, and it’s unfavorable to the student, and it might be okay in their village but won’t help them in the future. It’s a big disadvantage for a student, because if they pass the class without work, what is the motivation for the student that forces them to work? There is no motivation that exists for this student or for the learning of other students. This is very challenging when a person encounters a student 15 or 16 years old who does not have the same competencies that a student of the same age, of 16 years, has in other countries, such as European or North American countries, or others. It’s very difficult because the same motivation just does not exist. When they always pass, or almost always pass, there is no motivation for them to learn. I think this is the most challenging part for students, to find the motivation to learn things.

What is the integration of the orphans like in the areas or villages surrounding the orphanage houses?

So the project was created as not just ours, not just belonging to Jesuits who come from outside, but it’s both ours and the community’s. We have a house in different communities, with 10 kids, and we try to ensure the houses are at a minimum the same as the houses in the community, not better or worse, but the same, and so it’s more like a house in the community. The big work we have done in the sense of the community is that the communities also help them, the houses. Because the orphans are from these communities. Their families are from these communities. It’s nice that the Jesuits are taking care of them, with the food, etc. but there exists a role of the people in the community, especially those who are Christian and live in these communities, to support them. We try for the communities to help them, with their agriculture, that they contribute something to the house, a bit of flour, etc., so we try to integrate the community responsibility with these houses. 

Right now, what’s happening in reality, is that there are some communities that help the houses more and some that help less so we have to do everything. In all the communities we have meetings with the chiefs responsible for the community, the people responsible for the house, the people responsible for the religious side/Christian side in the community, and other influential people in the community—everyone participates in these meetings we have. They tell us about what’s happening, the difficulties, what we can do, and this is how we integrate the community with our project.

And after the eighth grade, do these orphans leave and go elsewhere or usually stay in these communities?

Secondary school starts in eighth grade. So our goal is that after, they go away to schools, in this case ESIL, or other trainings or preparation schools.

How do you incentivize the orphans to use Portuguese more [in the houses before they go to school]?

It’s very difficult. It’s something we’re trying to work on, this part of education. Once they enter ESIL and are under the work of the Jesuits, it is fine. The part we are trying to work on is before they come to ESIL, to teach them Portuguese. We are trying to arrange people who are responsible for the education [of the orphans] from those communities who have at least graduated and can give educational attention to the children in the houses. In the visits we make to the houses, we, the volunteers and Jesuits, are trying to understand how to make this education work. But this is a thing that doesn’t work well because it’s not a structured process; we can’t give them constant attention. We hope that starting next year we can arrange people who went through Jesuit formation or Jesuit schools of ours to provide this attention in each of the orphan houses and communities.

In secondary school, all the classes have to be taught in Portuguese. But is it the same in primary schools?

I don’t know exactly because by law, it has to be, per my understanding. But does that happen? No. It’s not something that always happens. In primary schools the classes are not all always in Portuguese; although they are mandated to be, in reality this doesn’t happen. It’s difficult because there is a problem: teachers who come to teach primary schools are chosen from within the community; many times they come from the same area and speak the dialect. If teachers were chosen from away, still within Mozambique but from a different district than the one the school is in, the problem would be solved, because when they arrive, if they don’t know the dialect, the class has to be taught in Portuguese. The problem is that the teachers are chosen from here [the same area]. The teachers here have an easier time speaking Chichewa than Portuguese. For this reason they give their classes in Chichewa. This is what happens, and I don’t know, but it should be the equal [to secondary school] and taught in Portuguese. The official language is in Portuguese, so they should be taught in Portuguese.

How do you define social justice, in the context of children and education here?

Social justice for these children, it’s complicated. Because there is no support from the state, really, it doesn’t exist for these children. What happens with these children, orphans, is that besides us, there doesn’t exist a great social responsibility on the part of the country or on the part of the communities. Maybe it exists more or less, but not really. These children are orphans, and they are without homes, and maybe sometimes others in the community will take them in, but they are not treated as their own children, and they are always seen in a different way. So that’s why with the project, despite how difficult it is to have six houses instead of one orphanage for all of them, our project has the objective to give these children this justice and social dignity that they lost when they became orphans. So they can be like others. Without the Jesuit role and influence, it’s really difficult and I don’t think social justice exists [here]. With intervention, they are guaranteed social justice. They have the same rights as others although they have different conditions such as no mother or father; they have the same opportunities as others.

The level of social justice in a more general sense for this region—we’re in this region of Tsangano, Angonia, etc.—that is pretty poor. It’s disfavored and has many needs. In the sense of education, there is no social justice that exists because the children don’t have the same opportunities as children in maybe parts of Maputo, or another city. They don’t have it. And mainly on the part of the entrance to university, they don’t have the same opportunity because it’s very difficult to enter a university, you need money. Students whose parents are farmers, let’s say, it’s very difficult for these children to attend university because they don’t come from a family with better conditions. It’s more difficult. This is something we are trying to work on, to in some way give support to help these children continue their studies because it is always important to have knowledge and learn things. We are trying to help them if they do well and have good grades in the twelfth grade, to then help them enter university. Because in reality this doesn’t happen. I don’t know the exact numbers from ESIL [of students who enter university], but it’s a growing project. I don’t know what the future of students in the twelfth grade at ESIL will be. It’s difficult. You need money. These students can’t attend university because they don’t have the funds for this. So does social justice exist? No. It doesn’t exist.

How did the colonial past and the colonial and civil wars affect education, specifically in this area?

In relation to the colonial war, I think older people maybe feel some sort of weight, in relation to the colonial war, some marks. But for example, I am Portuguese, and I have not felt any sort of aversion or sense that I am seen as a colonizer.

In relation to the civil war, based on my experience here, I have felt the contrary of what you see outside. I don’t feel it. I think people and communities are tranquil; I don’t sense the civil war. This is my own view. I think like in Portugal and the rest of the world, the [political] parties here and the opposition party should create structured programs. The same thing that happened in Portugal happened here. When a new party enters in for a term, they come with new ideas, new projects, and then after they leave power, the other comes and changes everything. So we need structured programs for education in Mozambique, and the government and state need structured programs of continuity in education. But these don’t exist. I think this is a forgotten community here. The parties were more worried about the war and conflicts with one another than they were about lifting this community here. As a person who comes from outside, from another country, it seems to me that this area of Mozambique is forgotten and nobody remembers it exists, but it is also a zone with people.

But this problem is also partly the fault of the people in these communities, because they don’t have great ambitions. They work in a different rhythm that is slower; it’s a cultural question. But apart from the culture, because of course I don’t think it would be good to lose the culture, education is influenced a lot by sorcery, superstitions, and such things. We have cases of this. For example, this influence comes from the family, the influence of spirits and spiritual things, and then these kids influence their own kids. We have cases when one kid stopped going to school because they thought he had a curse that was that whenever he goes to school his back hurts. So for this reason he didn’t go to school because he thought he was cursed by a spirit. So we also need to teach the older people, such as parents, that their children have to learn, to know things, to study. Because many times parents don’t give the support their kids need.

How do you think we can maintain the indigenous Chichewa culture and language, or other indigenous cultures, at the same time as the learning of Portuguese?

The question of language is simple. Language—they always speak Chichewa at home, and Portuguese at school. Many bilingual schools also exist, with other languages, and they work very well. But the part of culture, social culture, I think they have to define themselves. Those who want—because people want things—nice clothes, telephones, nice houses, so just as they know these things they want, they need to know some cultural things that are important to them that are an impediment to this, and what the barrier is. They have to decide what they want—do they want to stay completely in their own culture, or do they want to travel? For example, there exist tribes, who live together and live in their homes and their entire life centers around their homes, and life and communities like theirs are normally more closed. They don’t want anything different; they want to live like that. Here, no. Here, they want to live like the Europeans do. They want this life. They want things, they are also materialistic, and they want things related to money. And along with this, they have to leave cultural parts of theirs behind that is an impediment to this. And the only way that they can—and this is important—get these benefits that come from an education, and money, and more education, if they want this, is that they have to leave behind some cultural things of theirs. Because they are an impediment to this. This is what I have seen. 

For example, when a person who goes out of the community to study, in certain communities in the villages this isn’t seen as a good thing. Because it’s seen as, “This person has gone, they don’t want to talk to me…” In other communities it’s not like this, it’s seen as that they left to study because they want to go to a good university. So that’s the question. You’re asking if they can have in parallel, this cultural part of theirs, and this part of learning Portuguese, more education, and more training. And I don’t think so. I think to have more of one thing, they always will have to leave some part of the other behind.

And do you think Jesuit institutions have the responsibility to help the people they work with maintain the indigenous culture? Or not?

I think so, yes. ESIL is a Jesuit school; it’s not a Mozambican school. So the people who come here come for something different. I think the Jesuits don’t interfere with their culture. They have their cultural things, whether it is Cinyanja or Chichewa. What we do here is work to open their horizons. This is what is important. You have this life, this other life, but here is something else that exists, something more than here in Tsangano. Then the person can choose which life they want. I’m not fundamentalist. It’s not about money, happiness. A person has to decide which opportunities they want. If they want to stay here in Tsangano, and be an agriculturalist, and build their own homes, that’s good. If they want this option, I think it’s really good. But if they choose this option because they don’t have other ones, I don’t think that’s just. Then social justice does not exist.

What do you think is the future of Jesuit institutions in Mozambique or here in Tsangano?

The first thing is to consult ESIL. For example one project I am trying to work on is to work for the orphans on the university part. The basic thing is that the Jesuit secondary school of ESIL is working really well. It is the best example here in this region that I’ve heard of, with the best teaching. The principal thing is to work to help create a connection between the students there with university, because it’s a little sad, the students are here studying, and not all of them want to be agriculturalists. Some want to be nurses, doctors, managers, lawyers, but they come to twelfth grade and can’t do anything because they don’t have the possibility to go to the city. I think this is the main work that needs to be done next, this connection. This is the role of the Jesuits. There are organizations, NGOs, etc. of many who come here and try to impose the culture of Europe or North America but the Jesuits don’t do this, to think that we are more superior than them, because that doesn’t make sense. We are here and we try to open opportunities for them. After that each one can choose what they want.

Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here?

That inspired me from my work I’ve done here? I’m a person that likes to relate to people and the truth is that in the visits that I do [to the orphanages], although I don’t have the possibility to visit every single day because I also have to work on the program structure, it’s these visits that inspire me. When I see children who have their whole lives in front of them. I see my greater role and objective is to help them to have the same opportunities that I had. Okay, maybe they won’t have a life that was as easy, or with as many things as mine, because it is in a different context, but to be able to follow and do the courses that they want. That’s what inspires me, that these orphans, whose parents died, or whatever it was, can have a good life. A person in this context doesn’t have the same opportunities. The visits are really important to the project I am doing here, to perceive why we are here to work, why we are here doing this, or more concretely, for whom we are doing all this. To see the social responsibility.

There are two girls, Azarius and Christina. Azarius is 2 years old, and Christina is 7 years old. I like to see them when I visit. You have to come see their house. They are all important to me. But these two...I am in love with these two kids; I don’t know why. There is no great explanation. It was like love at first sight for me when I saw them. I don’t know why I like them so much, but I do. They are in a house near Tsangano (all the houses are within Tsangano), close to Fonte Boa. Fonte Boa is located farther down the road from Satemwa, and then if you continue from there, you’ll arrive at their house. They are great. I like to do the visits. I’m not sure if I have one favorite moment. I think all the moments are good.

I like to make trips, here in Africa, to ride in the open truck back, see the views. I love this. Because they have so many good things that we don’t have—on this continent with so much space. People live well, and they don’t need so many things to live well. It’s a simple life, and that’s why we don’t want to transform the youth here like European youth, who have iPads, iPhones…they have things here that we don’t have. They start to work early here, and I think that’s bad because children have to play, be children, and run around. A child here may not have the same knowledge of things that we have. But they know things kids in our countries don’t; they know how to take care of their farms, they know how to do work in the house. 

Here’s an example—there’s a mountain called Domwe; it’s one of the biggest ones in Mozambique. It is close to Tete. Tomás, David, and I climbed it. We came across a man with two of his children, and they were our guides to climb the mountain because we had gone to do it alone and we didn’t know the way and it is very difficult to climb… They climbed it calmly, not worried at all. So this showed me things that they know and have here that we don’t have or know… They may not have all the same knowledge, Portuguese, etc., but they have some things that are much better than in our developed, capitalist countries. Because they live more in the street, learning things, and they are obligated to learn and work. This is good. It won’t be good to lose these things. For example, if we had all the money in the world, and gave it to the orphans, and they came to Europe, imagine—we would lose a lot of good things that they have here.

Is there anything else you think would be helpful for me to know about these themes?

The fact that they speak Chichewa or Cinyanja here, this is a barrier. Because imagine, in Tete, they don’t all speak this dialect. They speak Portuguese, or another dialect. The problem is that Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, speaks Cinyanja, because the region of Cinyanja also includes part of Malawi and this part of Mozambique. So if they have some problem here, of health, for example, they always go to Malawi. For anything. They always have this help because in Lilongwe they have everything that we have there. So there is no necessity to learn Portuguese for them. Imagine that I went to the United States. If I don’t learn English, I can’t do anything. So I have an obligation to learn English. But here that is not the case—they don’t have the necessity to learn Portuguese to do anything. Only if they want to leave here, and get more education, but for the people who live here, they don’t have to learn Portuguese for anything. Nicer areas, healthcare—they have access to all of this in Malawi. They speak Cinyanja. So they don’t have any motivation or need to learn Portuguese, which is a great problem and I don’t know how to resolve that. 

This language barrier is very difficult to resolve. This is something that has to be resolved by the government, from outside. Maybe with things such as what ESIL does, because the 500 students here will learn Portuguese. But others, no. It has to be the state that does something, small things, and gives help to small educational places like here. The language part is very difficult.

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