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The Dreams of Youth

By Cormac McCarthy-Hann

Mozambicans don’t do hopelessness. A conversation with a Mozambican of any age, gender or socio-economic background will make it abundantly clear that hope is at the heart of everything they do. To be hopeless in Mozambique is to be an anomaly. In the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which devastated the vitally important port city of Beira, one would expect the already destitute people of Mozambique to be terminally melancholy. This is a country which in 2017 was ranked 3rd in the world for deaths due to HIV/AIDS, placed 11th in the world in 2018 for infant mortality rate and was 218th globally for average life expectancy at birth. Combine these statistics and the conditions necessary for their attribution with a major weather event more destructive than any previously experienced in the South-West Indian Ocean Basin. What you get when the two are mixed is a not a place of despair and self-pity as would be natural to assume, but a country with a young and ambitious population eager to make the best of any opportunity that comes their way.
The campuses of Young Africa Beira and Dondo are brimming with hopeful and highly aspirational youths and my daily conversations with them are the reason and basis for this blog. They are the embodiment of hope in a place where very little should exist. The students I spoke to aged between 15 and 29 and they all had the same goal; graduate from their course, find a job that pays enough for them to support their family, and ultimately ensure their children’s standard of living is better than their own. One such example was a 16-year-old boy called Omega. I met Omega at an English class which we were invited to by an eccentric teacher named August. To begin the class, Omega was asked by his teacher to explain the use of personal pronouns and without hesitation he rose from his chair, took up the chalk and started scribbling and speaking with remarkable fluency. He confidently gave examples and pointed out common mistakes to his fellow students, some of whom were several years older than he was. When his lesson was over, he was given a well-deserved round of applause as he retook his seat. After Omega’s short lecture, August asked us to form pairs with the students next to us and speak a few short sentences about where we were from, what our pastimes were and so on. A fellow volunteer was paired with Omega and with the minimum of encouragement Omega began to tell his partner all about himself. He began by saying that he lived near the Young Africa campus and that he walked there every day for English lessons. His nieces were dependant on him to make their meals and bring them to and from school. He had been studying English since he was 13 and he spent most of his spare time teaching himself (it was plain to see he was much brighter than most others in his class and of his age). His dream was to move to Maputo and study dentistry in the university there and to get a job that pays enough for him to be able to support his struggling family. His concluded his inspiring story as the class ended and as we left the room, we wished him the best of fortunes in all his endeavours.
Omega is no outlier. A young man named Manuel worked with us for the entirety of our trip and his story is strikingly similar to Omega’s. Manuel was studying construction and hoped to graduate in July of next year. He stood out from the start as energetic and outgoing, taking to every task with zeal and verve. He stayed behind after work several times to teach us how to dance to his favourite artist, Michael Jackson. Speaking to him before the graduation ceremony for this year’s crop of students, I asked him about his family. He said that his mother, father and one of his three sisters were all dead. He and one other student now share a living space separate to their family homes. I did not ask how they died. As with Omega, Manuel’s story is not unique. The other boys and girls we worked with had similar stories and their own aspirations which, because of Young Africa, were genuinely reachable.
It is obvious to see that Young Africa’s centre in Beira is not a true representation of the wider Beria area. Most Mozambicans will not attend school for longer than 10 years. Plainly, this is a great injustice and a waste of untapped potential. Those who so study and graduate from Young Africa provide opportunity for the less fortunate. They set up auto mechanic shops, become successful electricians, start bicycle repair shops, work as chefs in kitchens and follow many more noble pursuits in their communities. All of this generates wealth for the locality and indirectly raises the living standard for those who have not been so lucky to attend and complete such courses. Graduates from Young Africa not only bring hope to their families, but also to their neighbours.
As I sit at my desk writing this blog, thinking about the past month, I can’t help but be excited for the future of Mozambique. A small cohort of bright-eyed and hard-working young men and women are beginning a journey that will bring small improvements in each of their towns and villages and although the improvements are small and the progress is piecemeal, little by little they carve a path for the next group of enterprising youths with unshakable hopes and soaring dreams. As for me, I take a leaf from the book of Omega, Manuel, Salifa, Joel and so many more when I say that I hope Young Africa continues its work for as long as possible because the appetite for education and progress is one that I cannot see being sated for a long time.

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Resilience in Beira, Mozambique

By Ciaran O’Donnell

On the approach into Beira International Airport it was observed that the city of Beira, with its 500,000 occupants, is precariously situated on a delta like estuary of the Pungwe and Savannah river. This coupled with its closes proximity to the Indian Ocean makes the city of Beira extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events.

One such extreme weather event occurred on the 14th of March 2019. When Cyclone Idai made landfall on the eastern coast of Mozambique, strong winds and torrential rain caused extensive flooding, killing 501 people and affecting 1.85 million others. On closer inspection from the air, the damage caused is evident with a vast number of buildings showing extensive damage to the streets and roofs.

I was pleasantly surprised when I met some of the residents of Beira, who are clearly shaken from the events of March. However they are far from broken. As they share their individual survival stories, it is clear that the Mozambicans are a resilient and resourceful people who have, on more than one case, spoken jokingly about Cyclone Idai.

Almost four months after Cyclone Idai, most buildings in Beira still have concrete blocks or old car tyres anchoring the damaged roofs on. Besides this, the people are well on their way to recovery.

When I arrived in Mozambique three weeks ago I had no idea what to expect from this trip. This morning when I woke up, I still had no idea what to expect from the day. Beira is unlike anywhere I’ve been before and continues to surprise me day in, day out, whether that be due to a frog jumping out of the toilet at me, the genuine connections that you forge with the locals despite speaking different languages or the medical and counselling centre that is being constructed on the YA Dondo campus as I type. This is a place where I am excited to wake up every day and where I’ve learnt to never expect the expected.

If you’ve heard about Beira, Mozambique recently it may be due to Cyclone Idai and the devastating effects it had on the city. You may envision a place of misery and poverty which is to some degree accurate. Beira is still recovering, homes were destroyed, families are grieving and if you look around you can see this, however this is not what defines Beira. While staying at Young Africa I’ve met some of the most genuine, welcoming and all around amazing people. From the moment we started work here we’ve been welcomed with a smile and friendly “Hola”, we’ve been invited into English classes and been taught Portuguese, we’ve shared stories and jokes with the students through their broken English and our broken Portuguese and I’ve even been taught to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

The people here are never without a smile in their face,despite having so much to worry about they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in their problems and the trivial day to day stresses which so often occupy our life’s at home.What has to happen will happen even if it’s a bit delayed,for example when the basketball hoops were only being assembled at 10:30am on sports day despite the fact that the first match was due to take place at 10am. The competition still went ahead,winners were crowned and all the rest but unlike at home where panic stations would have been at level 100 here they simply went about their work in their usual nonchalant manner.

I think Beira and Young Africa would surprise many and it certainly opened my eyes to the fact that poverty does not mean that these people live a life of complete misery or that they are far behind the times. Most of the students here own a smart phone of some sort, despite the fact that some of them may not have a proper home to go to in the evenings. Out in Dondo a medical and counselling centre is being constructed on the Young África campus and counselling facilities are available here at the Beira campus already something which certainly came as a shock to me considering that in Ireland we are still working to reduce the stigma around mental health.
I’ve learnt so much since arriving here and it’s an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

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You Don’t Need to Move Mountains to Make a Difference

By Ciaran Daly

We’ve been working about five days a week for three weeks so far, and we certainly haven’t moved any mountains but I do feel we have made a positive impact.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-30 at 7.19.30 PMOn the Beira campus we’ve taken down old fences, dug some trenches, pulled up some trees, and we’re in the process of building a wall on the campus. At the time of writing this blog we have not yet fully completed a section of said wall but we have made progress on all parts, and it’s no small task. On the Dondo campus we’ve made blocks and worked on the construction of the infirmary, which includes levelling the foundations for the walls, laying the foundations, and building the pillar supports. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s the culmination of fifteen days hard work by eleven volunteers, three leaders, and numerous Young Africa students.

We’ve worked alongside the students of Young Africa every step of the way and I believe this is a far better way of doing things than if we had simply gone about the work ourselves. The most obvious benefit to this is that the work is done faster. Together we got donkey work done, such as digging up the soil, which allows the students to practice the skills they’ve learned in class with less distractions. Even simply giving the students the chance to practice their learned skills earlier means that their education is accelerated that small bit. Also by working alongside the students we’re breaking down cultural barriers, by talking to them and just being together I feel that both groups have learned more about the true nature of each others’ cultures than could have been done otherwise.

On another note, the money we raised went into funding the guard houses and a toilet block in Dondo, along with repairs to the basketball court, and the sports day here in the Beira campus. The guard houses and the toilet block have their own obvious benefits, but the importance of the sports day cannot be discounted either. A day where people can come together from different schools and education centres to just enjoy themselves and be around each other is something well worth having. Even just seeing the happiness on the local childrens’ faces when they had their faces painted or danced or chatted with the group is something I will never forget.

So no, we certainly did not move any mountains, but I feel that we did make a positive impact on the lives of the people we met.

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The work ethic in Beira and Dondo, Mozambique

By Ella Archbold

Throughout the work we got to do on the Young Africa campus, both in Beria and Dondo, the strong and patient work ethic that both students and staff had really stood out to me.

The students were always extremely eager to learn and wanted to work to their best ability, even if it was a simple task like collecting the sand and stones for the cement. Every student would divide the work out equally and then push themselves to achieve the most that they could.

Another aspect that stood out to me was how the students would be so punctual about working, and how they enjoyed teaching us the skills that they had already learnt. They were very proud seeing other people learn skills and information that they had taught us. They were so diligent and determined throughout all tasks. They listened to everything that the Formadora said and they had a lot of respect for them. Which added to the already great work environment.

I also noticed that they Formadoras were great examples and role models for the students. Staff in both campus’ had developed their incredible work ethic from Program Officers, Care Takers, Drivers and Directors. They thought the students the importance of completing all tasks and insuring that they’re completed correctly.

I really admired it and found it very motivating during the work day. It amazed me how eager the students were to learn and how much it meant to them to have the opportunity to develop such useful work skills. Some skills that people at home would turn a blind eye to! I hope to take a similar work ethic home with me to Ireland after seeing the determination and perseverance of the students in the Young Africa Campus’.

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Healthcare and beliefs in the Badjao tribe

We would like to extend our thanks to both Venerva and Janice who sat and told each of us their stories throughout our time spent with the Badjao. Venerva and Janice have both given full permission to share their stories here.

By Hannah Coady

In a perfect world, losing a loved one or battling an illness are the most difficult experiences anyone can face. Imagine facing that hardship while struggling to afford basic needs, like food and clean water, on a daily basis. The possibility of being treated for a terminal illness is overshadowed by having to respect the beliefs of your elders or partner for a lot of the Badjao community.
Although many Badjao’s attend regular, mainstream doctors visits, they often return home having been told they’re fine. In cases like that the Badjao perform healing rituals, believing their soul will be their true healer.
Due to the lack of nutrients and vitamins within the Badjao diet- as well as the constant risk of high fever from consuming dirty water- the Badjao youth have very low immune systems. If they’re unwell with a headache, a tape called salonpas is applied to the temples and forehead. If the illness is more severe, Pakansumangat will take place. This is when the healing elders visit the patients and perform a ritual that supposedly heals their soul.
If you happen to be a person that believes in modern medicine but can’t afford it, the health centre provides care to the community once a year. Think of all the ups and downs young children go through in a year of life. The Badjao children don’t have the luxury of constant self-care. The best option for them is to hope that their parents can take care of them.
With all that being said, the strength and resilience of the Badjao community is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Behind such a fantastic amount of positivity, they deal with heartbreaking tragedies everyday. That’s one of the many reasons I’m inspired by people like Venerva and Janice, along with every teacher in the Nano Nagle school.
In 2016, Venerva’s life was turned upside down when her daughter, aged 7, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. At first they thought it was a case of tuberculosis but after testing her bone marrow they shortly realised how severe her condition was. Venerva strongly believes in science and modern medicine and of course wanted to do any treatment that would save her little girl. Chemotherapy was suggested by the doctors and they wanted her to start immediately. Of course with such a big decision Venerva discussed everything with her husband and mother so they could decide as a family. Venerva’s husband and mother are very traditional Badjao’s and decided that treatment wasn’t the best thing to do. He didn’t think his daughter should lose her hair, become frail and not look like herself when she passed away.
Venerva had no choice but to respect her husband’s beliefs. For the last 4 months of her life, her daughter lived at home. She constantly asked her; why can’t I go and play with the other children and why can’t I eat the food I like? Venerva decided then to give her daughter everything she wanted. They went to Jollybee and ate as much as they could and went to playgrounds, but all of this was overshadowed by the fact that She was always getting sicker. The healing rituals weren’t working, nothing was. Venerva felt and still feels responsible. She believes, as many Badjao do, that she didn’t struggle enough as a child or teenager. Because she lived a happy life and had a happy marriage, she was being cursed with this heartbreak. After the death of her daughter, Venerva found it difficult to leave the house. Instead of medicating or spiralling into self-hatred, she began helping the other children in the community. She attended seminars on how to deal with the grief, all while feeling like she was to blame.
Venerva says she gets through each day by remembering that she still has so much and so many people that care about her.
I’m so proud to say that I’m one of those people. As she told me; if you are lucky enough to feel love then you will always have to feel pain.
Janice is facing a similar struggle with her husband who has stage five cancer. Janice is also a teacher in the community, and one of the most genuinely happy people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Janice’s husband suffers with diabetes, which is a manageable disease- when you have the means to do so. He needs 2 insulin injections per day in order to live pain free. Having the necessary payments for this is near impossible for their family. Because of this, he was taken into hospital last year and has rarely been out since. He was struggling to breathe and with 2 children under the age of 8, Janice had to send them away from their father’s bedside. Of course, her children couldn’t understand why Daddy was so sick, all they could do was ask Janice to tell him not to go yet. They weren’t ready to lose him, but how can anyone ever be ready for that? During her daily hospital visits, Janice is also taking her children to school, supporting her husband through his trauma and working to pay the weekly 2,600 peso that is needed to pay for the dialysis he’s undergoing. Every morning at 3am, she wakes up to begin cooking food to sell at her market stall. Janice works there until 6am and goes home to do the household chores and care for her children. She then goes to work in the school until 4pm before going back to the hospital. This may seem like a lot to us, but for Janice it’s nothing new. At 14 after losing her grandparents, Janice began working to provide for her younger sister so she would have the opportunity to finish school. She didn’t second guess sacrificing her own education for the good of her sister, just like she didn’t second guess giving her life to caring for others. Janice decided at the beginning of her husband’s illness that they would make the most of each and every day, because their children need their parents. Having gotten to know her two children, it’s clear how much of their mother is in them as they’re two of the most spectacular kids I’ve ever come across.
I asked Janice how she still remains so positive. She told me that her heart is always heavy, but when she’s at Nano Nagle teaching, she forgets about everything because all she can feel is love and support from her fellow teachers.
Nano Nagle is so much more than a learning centre of a job for Venerva and Janice. It gives everyone that’s involved in it a reason to keep going and find the good in things even in the worst of times. This is all a credit to the amazing staff and students  that spend their time making the Badjao community the place it is today.
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Experiencing Beira, Mozambique

By Orlagh Henry

When I arrived in Mozambique three weeks ago I had no idea what to expect from this experience. This morning when I woke up, I still had no idea what to expect from the day. Beira is unlike anywhere I’ve been before and continues to surprise me day in, day out, whether that be due to a frog jumping out of the toilet at me, the genuine connections that you forge with the locals despite speaking different languages or the medical and counselling centre that is being constructed on the YA Dondo campus as I type. This is a place where I am excited to wake up every day and where I’ve learnt to never expect the expected.

If you’ve heard about Beira, Mozambique recently it may be due to Cyclone Idai and the devastating effects it had on the city. You may envision a place of misery and poverty which is to some degree accurate. Beira is still recovering, homes were destroyed, families are grieving and if you look around you can see this, however this is not what defines Beira. While staying at Young Africa I’ve met some of the most genuine, welcoming and all around amazing people. From the moment we started work here we’ve been welcomed with a smile and friendly “Hola”, we’ve been invited into English classes and been taught Portuguese, we’ve shared stories and jokes with the students through their broken English and our broken Portuguese and I’ve even been taught to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

The people here are never without a smile in their face,despite having so much to worry about they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in their problems and the trivial day to day stresses which so often occupy our life’s at home.What has to happen will happen even if it’s a bit delayed,for example when the basketball hoops were only being assembled at 10:30am on sports day despite the fact that the first match was due to take place at 10am. The competition still went ahead,winners were crowned and all the rest but unlike at home where panic stations would have been at level 100 here they simply went about their work in their usual nonchalant manner.

I think Beira and Young Africia would surprise many and it certainly opened my eyes to the fact that poverty does not mean that these people live a life of complete misery or that they are far behind the times. Most of the students here own a smart phone of some sort, despite the fact that some of them may not have a proper home to go to in the evenings. Out in Dondo a medical and counselling centre is being constructed on the Young África campus and counselling facilities are available here at the Beira campus already something which certainly came as a shock to me considering that in Ireland we are still working to reduce the stigma around mental health.
I’ve learnt so much since arriving here and it’s an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.