Teaching the teachers

 By Luisa Cogo

Aprendemos brincando is a teaching project for the school of Paquitequete, in the Pemba district of Mozambique. Travelogue by Luisa Cogo, Eniscuola consultant for International projects…

3 July 2016

We arrived at Pemba airport. As we dropped below the clouds and began to see the landscape in the evening twilight, I gazed on the place that was waiting for me …

An endless spread of uninhabited “mato”, with a few huts here and there, a sea that I imagine is beautiful and which sinuously enters into the earth in an enormous bay and then, finally, the immense expanse of Pemba. Few places stand out, those that do are probably hotels, and then huts, an infinite number of huts, all identical.

We leave the plane and on foot, on the runway, as still happens in these parts, and move a bit lost towards the arrivals door.

The place is in some confusion … cards entry into the country are being distributed …. we manage to grab ours. We compile them quickly and get in the queue, in front of a sort of box, where a little man checks our passports and takes our fingerprints …

Everything’s fine so we go to collect our luggage … Here it is, with a sigh of relief, everything is there, not bad considering the three connections!

Waiting for us at the entrance is Manija from Eni with a driver and Nicoletta from the Khandelho Association. Friendly faces, even if still unknown, is a comfort in a situation that feels a bit hostile.

Meanwhile it became dark, the deep African darkness, even though we are close to an airport.

They accompany us to the “Irmas do bom pastor” hospitality house located not far from the airport. A quick dinner of fruit, sweet bread, a cup of tea and then to bed.

We have behind us a sleepless night, the stopover in Dubai with the heat and too many people, then another in Nairobi. The African night is conducive to a good sleep.

Facilitators work hard...

4 July 2016

We wake up early, the sky is grey, but the light is intense.

In the light I can see the place where we are staying. I am happy not to have gone to a luxury hotel. The low-rise buildings, the large courtyard with trees and sheltered places where people meet in the shade in groups, which in the afternoon are full of children playing games, it give me the feeling of being immediately immersed in the reality in which the people we will know directly live, the facilitators and teachers, and those for whom our efforts are intended: the children of the Paquitequete school.

I have time to converse a little with some people, especially women, who come to the clinic run by nuns to receive food and medicine, and with the sisters who tell me a little about their work.

I see the library, where some kids are studying and learn that it is the only public place in Pemba, where kids can find and consult study material free of charge.

In the morning we meet our facilitators, there are 6 of them, four men and two women, we sit around a table and begin the presentations. We quickly understand the context in which they live and they tell us something about themselves and the reasons why they were attracted by this proposal.

We have an hour and a half to explain our project and the role of facilitators. There is a good feeling and a lively dialogue.

For lunch there is rice, that we will discover is an integral part of any meal, we serve ourselves and, while we are sitting around a table, there is little conversation. Laconic replies to our questions, a sign of a people, like many outside Italy, that does not consider mealtimes as an opportunity to get to know one another, but merely to eat. After lunch we are taken by pick-up to the school. While we sat inside, the facilitators were on the trunk behind. Meanwhile, the sky turned blue and the wind blew.

Approaching the Paquitequete school, we drove along the beach, the endless beauty of the sea and palm trees lining the hillside, partially compensates for the poverty of the surrounding huts in front of which lively smiling children continue to play.

A happy coincidence, coordinated by Eni Mozambique that started a training project for teachers, allows us to participate in the afternoon session with the facilitators.

Our chat with Nicoletta, who has been in Mozambique for ten years with her husband, the project leader of an NGO, is interesting, and reveals aspects of daily life of a family with three children and the real reason that keeps them here.

I see the library, where some kids are studying and learn that it is the only public place in Pemba, where kids can find and consult study material free of charge...

5 July 2016

It’s early morning and everyone around the table is ready.

The day before, by asking them to introduce themselves, I was able to get some important details about their training, the activities they carry out and the people themselves (each different in terms of religious affiliation and life experience; a heterogeneous, group highly motivated group).

They are part of the Camal trainers group and their coordinator, Michel, a senior trainer from Khandhelo and Vandali, another trainer. All in all 9, plus Eugenio and me.

I am surprised by little, not common things. They each have a notebook and take notes carefully, asking questions, giving examples, relating the afternoon’s issues with those of the morning. We work hard with a short break for lunch.

I discover that the Paquitequete school works on four shifts, the first starts at 6.40, it is true that here the sun rises early and that shortly after the light is full, but …. The last evening shift, completely in the night, is dedicated to adult literacy.

The school classrooms, with a capacity for 40 children, given the demand are forced to accommodate at least twice as many. Living in Italy, I rarely see children in the streets, so it is always a joyous surprise when I see swarms of children, so festive and full of life, who come out from every corner, especially when they see a white person around. Mozambicans are quite reserved, they look at you sideways and wait to be asked before responding.

I make a tour of the school, peek through the windows and see that there is not a desk for every child, many are sitting on the floor, the classrooms are bare. On one wall a blackboard that professors fill with beautiful handwriting, that is copied by students in their exercise books, all the same, with light-blue  covers.

From Maputo, comes Eni’s Sergio, we introduce him to the group and take the opportunity to repeat to the scope of this training within the project that Eni is supporting for this school.

Then he sits down and listens to interesting discussions on today’s issue, tradition.

At the end I was surprises by a teacher who, in traditional dress, followed the training with a serious face and the set of on a motorcycle, on full revs, perhaps because it no longer holds the minimum, or perhaps because she doesn’t mind being noticed, loading a colleague on the pillion. I smile and this establishes an empathy that in the next few days will lead her to tell me about herself and ask questions with an unusual freedom.

Returning home we meet Alessio, a young boy, the AVSI project coordinator, just back from Italy, and who has been in Pemba for a year and a bit. The next day, having recovered from his journey, I will see him at the afternoon session.


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6 July 2016

An unexpected event interrupts our work: the announcement of the end of Ramadan.

Given that it depends on the moon, I have never understood why they can’t predict it, but everywhere it’s the same, they always wait for the official announcement on the radio!

We take a forced day off and take advantage to go with Manija, the coordinator of Eni’s social projects, to Pemba, to see a little of the city. We do some shopping at the market, even though most of the shops are closed because everyone celebrates at home; the narrow streets, between one shop and another, are unusually empty.

A dinner with Sergio allows us to exchange some ideas and learn about other aspects of this country that, for its history and present, has many particular characteristics that influence the way in which even the people with whom we come into contact with present themselves


7 July 2016

The day follows the usual pattern, the group begins to integrate. There are also moments for joking or telling something personal. The morning passes quickly.

In the afternoon, after our day off, the group of teachers is a little sleepy, are not so quick to intervene, despite the insistence of the trainer who uses a participatory methodology, bringing out the thread of the subject from an intense dialogue … but suddenly the arrival of a troupe (made up of three people who move discretely among us with their camera and a long microphone) shakes everyone up.

Denis, an old-ish teacher, who confessed that he had slept with open eyes throughout the first part, recovers the nice smile with which he normally speaks.

The debate continues, and even the operators stop at the end to get some information about this course which seems to them so different for being built along with the participants.

8 July 2016

The last meeting of the training course. The group participates with interest, intervenes, asks questions.

But going back to the role of facilitators, spelling out some practical aspects and introducing the subjects that will be studied next week by the trainers who are selected with the help of Eugene to prepare them to go into the classes.

In the end I ask Michel, the trainer from Khandlelo who participated all week with us in the course, to close by proposing some group dynamics. He begins, but then the others suggest some games. I watch them play, and even take part in some, they are having fun and laugh a carefree as children, and yet, from some hints, in these few days life situations are far from easy have emerged.

Outside in the courtyard, three young girls climb up and come down, upside down, on a rusty old slide with the same carefreeness of the adults inside. I can not resist, I approach them and ask them their names, age, class; they have stopped to play after school and are still wear their uniforms.

The courtyard and the house of the sisters really is a place where people can come and go freely. I give the girls a bottle of orangeade left over from lunch, they drink it, passing it around and waiting for their turn.


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9 July 2016

Today we are all together in the space of the Good Shepherd Sisters.

The participation is enthusiastic, I note that the facilitators are now into it and intervene freely.

I realise also that there are representatives from the ministry of education who seem to appreciate what has been proposed.

In the afternoon, while we conduct a course evaluation with the teachers, we proceed to the assessment also with the facilitators.

There are a series of questions that we want them to answer, we have clear in mind that, of the six present, we have to select four.

After we finish, we are left with Camal, the coordinator, and Michel from Khamdlelo for the selection.

We all agree about three, considering that they will have to deal with both adults and children, we’re pretty sure.

But it’s not easy to choose the fourth, or rather one is excluded for excessive shyness that we fear will not help him deal with the class teachers, of the two remaining we choose the one who is perhaps less brilliant, but who demonstrated a certain ability to relate to children.

10 July 2016

In the morning we go to Mass in the only church/hall in the area. Although there is plenty of space, the Mozambicans are not afraid to sit close together, many remain outside, an endless swarm of children (I do not understand how they can all fit in) squeeze up on one side of the altar.

They are all in their best clothes, everyone, many women are wearing traditional dress and a turban arranged in various shapes, as befits a great celebration. They are poor people and it shows, but the dignity and mutual respect they have is something enviable.

Anyone who has never seen an African Mass can not really understand the festive atmosphere with which people participate, the songs accompanied by various instruments and girls dancing at various times. At the end there is the rite of introducing new people and of course not only are we among them but I also have to say a few words to explain our presence here.

At the end of it all, finally we go to the seaside! A steady drizzle doesn’t put us off and there is a fresh breeze that blows all day. Alessio takes us to a wonderful place, a semi-deserted bay and an endless beach, with the sea that constantly changes colour.

One almost wants to stay here forever…

11 July 2016

Also today the weather is a bit inclement, it’s raining and we fear it can ruin our ceremony of the presentation of materials, but we are confident!

We arrive at the school and see, displayed on tables along the path that runs around the classrooms, some of the materials that will be presented, books, sports equipment, computers, and the colourful Eniscuola world maps.

The children look on curious, I talk to them. It’s not just the little ones who are interested, also the older ones look on in admiration and amazement.

When all of the representatives of the municipality and the Ministry of Education arrive the ceremony begins. The children gathered in the courtyard look on and participate with well-worn phrases, giving the best of themselves when they are made to sing.

Fortunately the speeches of all are short and the weather is cool, I think that even for the children, who are all together, it is not too tiring.

When the authorities leave, we take the opportunity for a short organisational meeting with the director of the school, the pedagogical coordinator and the head of the secretariat. I explain briefly what we expect, and I have a positive feedback, I have a lot of confidence in Camal who will lead the work, he seems a responsible person able to operate in the school environment. Eugenio will stay with them for four more days. A little reluctantly, I must say goodbye to everyone, though I promise to come back.

The work of these days, the people I met and the place (I must confess) have really won me over.


12 July 2016

We leave for Nairobi, and will proceed from there to Dubai and only tomorrow morning will we arrive in Milan.

I look through the window at the scenery, I have in my mind’s eye the people I met ….

How familiar a place that until last week was for me just a name, Pemba, has become.

about the author
Luisa Cogo