Born in Mozambique

Mozambican child

“Hold fast to your dreams,

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird,

That cannot fly.”

– Langston Hughes

It seemed there was no hope for young Lordes. She was desperate to attend school, to learn and to hopefully attain a good job one day. Both her parents had died a few years ago of aids, leaving her and her two young siblings in the care of their very old grandmother, Rudi. There was a time when Rudi was able to look after the 3 children, making a meagre living by selling mangoes in the market and planting a small crop of rice. But Rudi was weak now. The years of surviving a brutal civil war, of being deserted by her husband and of being regularly attacked by malaria, had taken its toll.

Now, any hope of survival for this ailing family, rested on the shoulders of the 17 year old Lordes.

I found her bent over a bucket of soapy brown water, scrubbing the ragged clothes vigorously. Her usual smile had been closed shut, her mouth taut and her jaw stiff. Her eyes were fixed on the dirty brown water, holding in the tears of a tormented child. She blinked, unable to contain her disappointment. A silver tear slid down her cheek, evaporating under the hot sun into nothing.

She told me that she will no longer attend school.  I couldn’t understand why. She was one of the top students in her class of 100. She’d attended all her lessons and her grandmother had picked enough mangoes to pay for the annual school fees.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for the test,” she says.  “They wanted 5 Meticals but I did not have it.”

Confused, I asked her what the 5 Meticals are for? After all, she’d paid her school fees in full.

Lordes explained that writing a test is compulsory to pass the year. But the teachers will not allow the children to write their tests unless they pay them a non-refundable ‘fee’ of 5 Meticals. Lourdes could not afford this unofficial fee, amounting to less than an American cent. Her entire future had been killed by the very person, her teacher, who was meant to be the key to her freedom, her dreams and her family’s hope.

That Friday morning, Lordes walked out of the school gates and away from the old black board she had come to know so well, never to return again.

She would be married next week. To a man who still lived with his family but who she perceived as her only hope. He was hardly an adult himself. It was clear what her future role would be. She’d be expected to earn her stay, to keep their house clean, his family fed, to wash their clothes and to bare his child. I asked her if this is what she wanted. She looked at me grimly, with dead eyes. “No, I want to go to school.”


“Human history becomes more and more of a race between education and catastrophe.”

– H.G. Wells


“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.”
  — Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981

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“It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.”

– Frank Warren

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“Give a bowl of rice to a man and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life.”


kids silouette 2

“A childs life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”

– Chinese Proverb

Big sis

“Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.”

–  Victor Hugo

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“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

-Malcolm X

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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

-Frederick Douglass

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“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
  — Nelson Mandela

School goers

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

-Nelson Mandela

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“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
  — Anonymous


18 replies »

  1. A terrible cycle of corruption and underfunding of services. The two keep re-enforcing the other. The fact that the teachers are part of the system of oppression demonstrates that the teachers themselves are in a precarious position. Reminds me of visiting Mexico -one of the tour guides was a teacher supplementing his income, making more as a tour guide than as a teacher.

    A powerful and insightful post that reveals the complexity of social conditions beyond the sheltered western cultures . This lack of understanding plays into the fear & animosity towards migrants & refugees.

    You may find my post, Valentines for Refugees, on Implied Spaces (blog) of interest.

    • I agree with you. It’s not a straight forward matter or a simple case of ‘dealing with corrupt’ teachers. As you say, it’s a vicious cycle and there is corruption on every level; within the government, within businesses, the police, the hospitals – it’s virtually impossible to operate in Mozambique without being faced with corruption of some sort. I remember how someone needed help from the police with a certain matter and she had to pay an unofficial sum first before they’d even listen to her! And so the police become the ‘problem’ opposed to the ‘problem-solvers.’ I believe this ‘culture’ of corruption can change, but it’s got to come from the top. If you look at the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli – he’s taking Tanzania forward in leaps and bounds in that he is ruthlessly attacking corruption. I think Mozambique could do with that kind leadership!I will definitely check out your post. Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

    • This time, I wasn’t helpless! I was able to give her an opportunity to further her education. But that was only after she miscarried after heavy manual labour and being kicked out of the ‘new’ family for not falling pregnant immediately after her loss. The reality is that most of these children dont ever get a second chance! How to help them? Afterall, education is key to change. I think sponsoring a child’s education or at least contributing towards an education charity aimed at helping individuals could help…oh and changing an entire government policy!!! That too will help 😉

  2. Just awful. When we lived in Nigeria, we’d often hear stories of teachers not getting paid, so although desperately unfair, they would in turn extract anything extra that they could from the students because they had their own families to support. A vicious circle.

    • A vicious circle indeed. It’s truly heartbreaking seeing these young children being introduced to bribery at such a young age but I see the other side of the coin too. It’s a country that is still recovering from a brutal 20 year war, and often decisions – regardless of age, are simply based on survival.

    • I think Mozambique tourism has had a tough couple of years with the political unrest, but it sure wouldnt stop me from going! Knowing the geography of the country and the places of unrest is important when planning your trip. If you are interested, I published a blog a couple years ago (!) called “Is Mozambique safe” It has a few helpful, up to date links with regards to the political unrest and might be useful when planning your trip 🙂 Mozambique has suffered greatly since the start of the unrest and many Mozambicans have lost their livelihood since. It’s still one of my favourite beach destinations in Africa!

    • Corruption seems to be everywhere these days, a way of life, accepted! It’s heartbreaking seeing these young kids trying to wrap their heads around someone taking their dreams from them. We see them entering a door with the innocence of a child and leaving with a ‘hard heart,’ the grim reality of being stuck in the situation they hoped to improve! Lordes however, did have a happy ending. After a miscarriage due to hard labour, she was kicked out of the new family for not wanting to fall pregnant immediately after her loss. She eventually went to a hairdressing salon college and is now qualified. But she is one of the few lucky one’s! For most of them, life just gets harder.