Visiting my old students in Mozambique during this last holiday season really opened my eyes more than ever to the wonderful opportunities I have had because I was born in the United States. My students are entering 12th grade this year and they are already thinking of what they will be able to do once they graduate from school. They all have dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, engineers or activists, but the question that constantly lingers in their minds is whether they and their families will be able to afford to go to university or a technical school. Some people say that this is the problem everywhere. But it is much worse and a much more complicated problem in Mozambique, where there are few jobs for high school graduates, few scholarships properly distributed and no such thing as a student loan.
Although many students have difficult stories and circumstances, one student really has my attention. Fabião is currently 20 years old and just graduated from high school in Monapo, the town in Nampula where I was a Peace Corps volunteer from 2008-2009. My roommate was his teacher but I grew close to him as he would come over to practice using my computer. The oldest of six siblings, Fabião is soft-spoken and always has a quick smile. I don’t think he has a mean bone in his body. He and his family are humble and kind.
In the two years after I left Monapo, his older brother passed away and as the next oldest son, he began working to help support his large family. During the 12th grade, he switched courses so that he could study at night. Studying at night in Mozambique isn’t always easy, because often, the level of instruction falls because teachers and students often don’t show up for classes. While going to school at night, he began working at a banana farm some 20 km away from Monapo during the day. Every morning, he woke up at 3:30 and got on a company truck to go collect bananas in the hot sun for 11-12 hours. He returned home at around 4 or 5 pm to bathe and have a short rest before going to school from 6:30 until 11:00 pm. After school, he would return home to get a little sleep before having to wake up early again to repeat the same process the next day.
He has graduated now, despite the struggle that stood in his way for getting his high school education, but like most others in town, he does not have the money or the opportunities to go to school. So he continues to work at the banana farm, collecting bananas every day and hoping to save enough money to one day be able to go to school in the city to study English. If he were to go to school, he would also leave Monapo, leaving his family without the income from his job on the banana farm.
Fabião is kind and intelligent and I have been thinking about him a lot. He deserves better opportunities than what he has in front of him, as do so many of our old students who have graduated from Monapo but now remain “parado” - stopped. He and the others students are why I want to go into development and education as a career. Time and time again, visiting with old students, the frustration of limited opportunities and resources was evident. Only a select few with money and connections are able to study when there is so much intelligence, creativity and potential in these young people.