A Morning in Capunda, Niassa Province, Mozambique

By Catherine Macnab, CODE Program Manager After four days in the Mozambican capital of Maputo, discussing technical aspects of the program with Progresso staff, I looked forward to visiting my first rural school in the northern province of Niassa.  After an hour or so driving along a dirt road, passing small villages, we arrived at Capunda. As we met with the school director in his office, the recess bell sounded.  In no time, curious children, who saw the truck arriving with visitors, were jostling to peek in the office door. Capunda Primary school made changes required by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) to divide the school day into only two sessions -- lower grades in the morning and higher grades in the afternoon -- instead of three sessions. This increased the number of hours of instruction provided to all children. The problem at Capunda was that there were not enough school rooms to hold more classes simultaneously. The solution was to construct three ‘temporary’ classrooms in a thatched structure nestled under a number of large shady trees.  After class resumed, we slipped into the back of the Grade One room to observe a math lesson. It was difficult… It was difficult for the children to keep their heads forward with such unusual visitors behind them. It was difficult for me to remain official, indicating for children to look forward and pay attention, when I wanted to make goofy faces and invite them to sit with me. Somehow we managed. Barely. The classrooms are rudimentary. A straw wall on one side blocks most of the direct sunlight; school benches are made from suspended branches.  Children balance their books on their laps; the teacher has a chalkboard leaning on a straw wall. The straw wall provides a visual divider between classes, but no sound barrier. Teachers compete against classes reciting or singing next door. From my view at the back, the classroom seemed normal in the given environment. Of course the benches are uncomfortable for the children to sit on for long stretches – I was given one of the few school chairs – and the books would fare better if the children put them on a table, instead of in the sand. But a refreshing breeze passed through the room, and I was delighted by the rustle of the trees overhead. After all, these children do not spend most of their time inside as most Canadians do, and although I haven’t been in a rural Mozambican home, I would expect to find a similar level of comfort.   Eventually we regrouped with the director and the teachers to discuss teaching methodologies.  As we finished, I reached into my bag to present some small gifts – sparkly pencils that will probably be used for prizes during reading competitions, and a couple other tools for reading and writing – pencil sharpeners and stencils. The gifts were received with such appreciation and honour. Then they presented us with a box – it was filled with dozens of bananas from the school plantation. Most of them were green but a few ripe ones were presented to us for immediate consumption. With children and staff watching, I peeled mine, wondering how many of the children came to school without breakfast and needed the banana more than I. But I was an honoured guest -- to refuse the gift would have been an insult. I set about the task with determination. Then I bit into the banana… I have lived in the tropics, how is it that I had never before eaten a tree-ripened banana!? Words cannot describe the immense pleasure that washed over me from the first taste of that unassuming piece of fruit. I may never again eat a banana that turns from green to speckled on my counter. Then the school secretary reached behind the door and pulled out a live and loudly complaining chicken. Startled, I was grateful for companions who know how to hold chicken without cellophane. As I joined my team for dinner that night, I gave quiet thanks for the insight my work provides into lives that are so different than mine. Then I rolled back my sleeves and used my hands to eat the best stewed green bananas and chicken ever prepared.  

Monday, September 28, 2009