Carmen Mauriello is a former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Mozambique from 2004-2006, and currently teaches high school global history and journalism in Brooklyn, N.Y.
July 12, 2010
The pounding, stamping, shaking of feet. Women's feet. Stirring up dust clouds from the concrete floor of our one-room church to the bongo rhythm. Dozens of bare, weather-worn, powerful feet that on any other day would be plowing through corn fields, standing firm under heavy loads of water, supporting two babies, and often supporting an entire family - even an entire village. I sat mesmerized by the mothers, daughters and elders and their liberation dance - or their moment of liberation - from a life filled with too many responsibilities from too young on; a life with too little dancing. I never did strip my socks and shoes and join their line, but as the dust would settle each week, I would sense a rising feeling of something like liberation, of joy, and of God.
Thankfully, my two years of Peace Corps service in Mozambique afforded me many such moments of solidarity and sharing with my dear Mozambican friends and community members.
Untapped Energy and Potential. I arrived at my post, an agricultural high school outside the city of Chimoio, a wide-eyed lad ready to teach English and to change the world, and - far from exploiting that - my students embraced it. As I reached out to them, vibrant ideas and proposals burst forth, from a girls' leadership club, an HIV/AIDS activist group, to a Rotaract Club (an affiliate of Rotary International), and more. It was this type of movimento (positive momentum) that would invigorate me and our school and community.
One of my fondest memories was seeing our HIV/AIDS activist group - sometimes as many as 60 of us - pile into a bus each Saturday en route to high schools throughout our province. Our dynamic, all-day presentation would include plays, music, discussions, and murals, as well as talks from people living with HIV/AIDS. I truly believe that the more than 1,500 students we reached were deeply affected by this powerful HIV/AIDS education program.
No One is Too Poor. After a few months at my school, I became involved with an international ecumenical service group called the Community of Sant'Egidio. We would gather for prayer services filled with lively singing on Fridays, and on weekends we would perform community service. I witnessed how my fellow Sant'Egidio members truly lived out our motto, "No one is too poor to help someone else." These Mozambican students devoted their sparse free time to visiting elderly friends and tutoring and playing games with local children, many of whom suffered from malnutrition and faced major challenges in obtaining an education.
Study, Study, Study. My students were keenly aware of how central education was to their advancement and to the development of their country. You would see them walking through the fields with their notebooks, reciting to themselves key vocabulary and concepts. The pressure to succeed in school was extreme - failure likely meant a life spent in subsistence agriculture or street peddling. In Mozambique, education was not seen as a right but as a privilege, and one that could be lost in a flash by not dedicating oneself fully to one's studies.
Bringing it Back Home. Seeing the great value Mozambicans place on education has inspired me in a number of ways. Since my return to the United States in 2006, I have decided to pursue teaching as a career. I just wrapped up my third year of teaching in Brooklyn, N.Y. ; I currently teach global history and journalism at the high school level.
My experience also inspired me to start a non-profit, called the Mozambique Scholarship Fund. I started this scholarship fund in 2008 and, through the help of dozens of individual donors, we have been able to extend scholarships to four Mozambican students to further their studies in their home country. Two of our scholarship recipients are in their junior year of college - Ancha is studying accounting and Sulsa is in veterinary studies - and two more, Moises and Manuel, are in high school and hope to one day pursue careers in engineering. We have other deserving students in the pipeline for future scholarships, and we hope to continue raising enough money to support them all. (For more information, or to make a donation, please check out our website, www.mozfund.org.)
Viva Moçambique, a terra de boa gente (the land of good people)!
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