The bank holiday yesterday was helpful to digest a bit the emotions of the last few days. However I was sorry for wasting an entire day of my short visit. Yesterday it was a celebration day - the day of the Mozambican woman - and there were celebrations in the main squares of several towns / villages like the ones I briefly witnessed in Bilene, 30km from Chokwe.
Friday started with rain again but it was fortunately over by the time we arrived with Mano Hilario at the Santa Luisa de Marillac (SLM) School in Manjangue.
The Sisters Antónia e Sidónia gave us a warm welcome. The Culinary Course of Sister Antónia, part of the ALG sponsored Technical Courses in the school, was just about to start - today was the day of the fried pastries that looked very much alike the Portuguese "filhoses”.
While Sister Antónia and the students prepared the dough, we visited the Vegetable Hut of the school. It had rained at last (although not much!) and a few students were working on the land. I enjoyed in particular the banana trees which were growing there very timidly due to the lack of rain.
One of the highlights of the day was the moment when I saw the new School Canteen almost done! The indoor part will be finalised soon but it was very rewarding to imagine the canteen full of children having their daily meals.
Sister Sidónia guided us to the HIV Day Center where we spent some time with the infected children. On Fridays the schedule is flexible so this morning they were watching cartoons and playing games. The table was ready for the lunch that was to be served in a short while.
We returned to the school playground and went to see the culinary course again. There were some pastries ready and many others to cook. A few of the students had just left to sell the pastries. Sister Antónia told us that today there were not baking bread due to the rain. However on Wednesday the bread was very good and was sold very quickly.
The younger students were already queuing for lunch in the playground when we met Orcidio, the young ALG local technician, in the room where he does all the admin work for ALG and UPG Portugal, including all the individual data on the 120 Sponsored children under the Portuguese charity’s programme such as the student marks that will be shared with their respective UPG sponsors.
As we did not want to disturb Orcidio's task, we left the room and I witnessed from a distance the lunch distribution under the School Feeding programme, the largest single project supported by ALG. Small groups of students got their meals in their green plastic plates and sat under the trees jointly with other students to have lunch. This was one of the unforgettable memories that I will keep in mind from this visit.
And just like this we spent almost 4 hours (it felt like much less!) in the school. And even then we have not visited the After-Class support classroom which had ended while we were discovering and talking around the school.
This afternoon the sisters were to visit the family huts of some students and other children in need as it is customary every Friday afternoon. We said goodbye but were sorry for not being able to wait for the return of Sister Flora, the school headmaster. However Isaurinha was already expecting us in Chokwe.
Uni Scholarship student Isaurinha is one of the students of High Institute of the Gaza Province who has been granted a scholarship sponsored by ALG. She is on the second year of the Nutrition degree and she lives in Chokwe in the house of the Vicentine sisters. Last year, at the time of my 30th anniversary, I decided to kindly ask all my friends for a small contribution to finance Isaurinha's degree. Everyone contributed above the expectations therefore ALG is now financing her tuition fees and part of the accommodation costs. Unfortunately we did not have much time to chat with Isaurinha as her classes were about to start. However it was enough to remind her that her commitment and dedication will be critical for her to complete her degree. We also added that we would be very proud should she become the first woman to graduate under the ALG scholarship.
We said goodbye with a big smile from Isaurinha at the entrance of the High Institute after having significantly reduced her daily journey with a ride. We were very disappointed with the poor access conditions that every student has to face to arrive to the newly built High Institute in Chokwe - we believe each student takes around an hour of walking to reach the institute by foot!