Mozambique often goes unnoticed, but that's why I'm here
Francisco is in Reutlingen with the weltwärts programme
Location: Reutlingen, Germany, Europa
Francisco Abilio from Mozambique spent a year working as a volunteer at the Eduard Spanger Comprehensive School in Reutlingen. He is among the first volunteers who came to Germany on the weltwärts programme. Francisco supports teachers in lessons and extracurricular activities such as school excursions or the school's farm project.
How did you comes across weltwärts?
Francisco: I was already involved in voluntary work in Mozambique, at AJUDE, a Mozambique youth and volunteer organisation which hosts weltwärts volunteers from Germany as well as those from other countries. There, one of my tasks was acting as a mentor to the volunteers. The volunteers who come from Germany to us in Mozambique are sent via the ICJA global volunteer exchange programme. And it was through ICJA that I found out about the weltwärts South-North component and applied for a volunteer service assignment in Germany.
What duties do you have at the school?
Francisco: I have a set timetable with weekly occurring programmes, but there is also time for other activities. In the coming month I may be accompanying a class and the teacher to a school camp. I assist the P.E. teachers in overseeing the football group. I offer English conversation classes for pupils in the German sixth grade (early secondary school) two days a week. This is offered as an extra outside of normal English lessons and is intended to teach children the language practically while allowing them to play around and have fun. We talk a lot, read things and play games to expand their vocabulary. Obviously I need a little time to prepare for the course. While English is not my native language, I got into the language back in school and I got the chance to practice it through my dealings with the young people volunteering in Mozambique. I was also able to travel to Canada for three months through my involvement in AJUDE and contacts to foreign partner organisations. There's also a special project under way at the school - a school farm. The children in the 5th and 6th grade spend several hours a week there over the course of a month. There they learn lots about agriculture, livestock and food production on a local and global scale.
What do you enjoy most about your weltwärts assignment?
Francisco: I have great fun gaining experience in teaching and I have had plenty of nice moments and even some funny ones! But what I really like is when I am outside, for example, with my outdoor group, when we go on scavenger hunts or treasure hunts. I like the variety involved in the tasks. It's great for me to hear positive feedback from the teaching staff too. In the first few weeks, when I was still new to the school, hardly anyone really knew me. But now everyone knows that I'm here and ask if I can come here and there to help out.
What were your first experiences of Germany? When did you have the feeling that you had really arrived?
Francisco: When I first arrived I had an eleven-day seminar in Berlin with other weltwärts volunteers from my host organisation. This involved a mini intensive language course, some short presentations, workshops and discussions about the country, people, society and some about the history of Germany. There were also a few museum visits. But we also talked about possible challenges, a potential culture shock etc. To begin with, that was all very exciting, unbelievably fascinating and new - as everything usually is in the first few days. Afterwards I met lots of people in Reutlingen. Everyone was interested in me and wanted to know what I was doing here and how I was finding it. Then the curiosity and excitement gradually faded. It was not all that easy to deal with. At first it took me a certain amount of time – as is the case with everyone probably – to settle in and integrate. I find it more difficult to come into contact with other people here as it is. So the initial excitement had disappeared and I got the quite sobering feeling that I had crashed back down to earth.
Then one thing that was really great and that I will always remember was the carnival in Rottenburg. A family from St. Johann – where I live – invited me to come along. I joined them in the parade, we were all dressed as pigs and had masks on. It has unbelievably good fun getting to know and participate in the region's festival culture. I felt like I was part of a group and no longer an outsider.
Is there anything that you miss here or anything you look forward to when you return to Mozambique?
Francisco: I look forward to seeing my friends first and foremost. I miss the everyday life where I feel that social interaction among people is easier, more open and communicative. Here I spend time alone and, while this is not unusual in this country, I do miss the nature of trust and closeness which I know from Mozambique. I do not like being alone for extended periods of time. In Mozambique for some reason, I'm not sure why, it is easier and more normal to spontaneously look in on a friend, ask how they are doing and simply to spend time with friends or even to get visits yourself.
How, in your opinion, is Mozambique perceived in Germany and which role can volunteers like yourself play when it comes to the public perception?
Francisco: To be honest, I don't think Mozambique is perceived at all. Once at the school I drew up a questionnaire on Mozambique and asked some of the pupils what they knew about Mozambique. Only a small few even knew that it was a country in Africa and, if they did, they couldn't say exactly where it was. None of them knew which language was spoken in my home country and how many people lived there. So when I speak to people about Mozambique, then things which many people associate with Africa – from hunger, child soldiers right through to Ebola – are projected on Mozambique. But I think people from Ghana, Tanzania, Togo or Cameroon probably experience the same thing. Country-specific and regional differences are hardly noticed.
But I do hope and I believe that this will change gradually through volunteer services like weltwärts in particular. I have the opportunity to speak to people during work, in my breaks and even more so in my private life. People often ask me to tell them a little bit about my country, especially the children at the school. Through my guest family I have even given a talk about Mozambique in the congregation in our small community.
I have the opportunity to speak to people during work, in my breaks and even more so in my private life. People often ask me to tell them a little bit about my country, especially the children at the school.
What will you take away from your volunteering service?
Francisco: I still haven't thought much yet about returning home. I've learnt an awful lot from my weltwärts volunteer service, also because I came here with my eyes and ears open. Working with children and young people is something I also really enjoy. I can definitely picture myself working with children and young people on a professional basis in the future.
Once I am back in Mozambique I will share my experiences and impressions from my year in Germany and I am sure I will be asked a lot about it. Some things in my lifestyle have changed as a result of my experiences and considerations and I can imagine that some more things will change too. I can imagine that this will rub off on my environment and my group of friends too. If this is the case, not just with me, but with many of the volunteers, then I think we can change something.