Before coming to Mozambique, my 3 goals were:

  1. Embrace the new culture and environment
  2. Learn Portuguese
  3. Volunteer as a teacher

For the first two and a half months I have been doing a lot of the first two goals: practicing Portuguese with everybody I could, reading in Portuguese, meeting people, playing with Mozambican kids, getting to know the city, trying Mozambican food, etc.

But my plan to volunteer in a school was delayed until this month because right when we got here they started summer holidays and school didn’t start again until two weeks ago. Then, I didn’t want to bother the teachers the first week of school, because (as a teacher myself) I know how crazy those first days are! I did go and talk to the nuns that run the orphanage and “Escolinha” (their word for preschool). I told them I was interested in volunteering at the Escolinha to help the teachers with whatever they needed if I could take Ramona with me, and they were very thankful and happy with the idea.

It has been another wild adventure. Before visiting the school I tried to think a lot about what to expect, to be ready. I didn’t know much about the place. But I did know I wanted to volunteer there because they had kids from 2 to 5 years old. That’s the age group with which I have the most experience as a teacher and I thought I would be able to help the most.

The first day me and Ramona when there at 9 am. We met the 2 teachers and the cleaning lady. They were really friendly and nice.

And then there were the kids, about 50 kids (they are not sure about the final number yet because enrollment is still open), from ages 2 (some I think are not 2 yet…) to 5.

The school is basically two long buildings with a covered middle area and a little playground next to it. One of the buildings is divided into 2 classrooms, one much bigger then the other. The other building is full of bunk beds.

Here is what a day at the Escolinha looks like:

  • 7-8: drop off
  • 8-8:30: exercise and play time outside

  • 8:30: wash hands, drink water and go inside

  • 9-10: snack (tea with milk and bread)

  • 10-10:30: free play while the teachers have their snack

  • 10:30-11:30: circle time with songs and activities

  • 11:30: lunch
  • 12-14: nap time
  • 14-15: snack (juice and cookies)
  • 15-16: pick up

Ramona is having fun. The first moments were a little bit overwhelming for her because some kids wouldn’t stop touching her, especially her hair. But after a while she was just doing her thing, having a snack like the others (even though she found the tea to be too hot! It really was hot!), clapping hands with the songs, etc. So nice to see her interact and enjoy her “first day of school”.

After that we have gone several mornings again. My plan is to try to stay one full day to see how Ramona does lunch and nap there, and decide how often we are going to go. It is so interesting to talk to the teachers there, they are very curious and ask me a lot of questions. I felt both very welcome and helpful from the beginning.

The things that have surprised me the most (aka things that are very different from a preschool in Spain or the USA):

  • A lot of kids for only 2 teachers. (Apparently they are going to divide them in 2 groups soon, younger ones and older ones, and that will be more manageable for everyone).

  • The only things they have are plastic tables and chairs, hangers for their backpacks, a black board in the big classroom and the bunk beds to nap. No toys. No art supplies. Nothing else.

  • The rhythm. Like many things in Mozambique, everything is kind of relaxed, they take their time to go from one activity to the other and the kids just play around, talk, chill and wait.

Do you spot Ramona in there?

  • Not a lot of organized educational activities.

  • The bathrooms. They’re different, in every sense.
  • The facilities are not what we would call safe and “kid-proof”. There’s no playground door, there are holes in the floor, no running water, no mosquito screens or nets, …

But, in some ways, it’s better than a typical Spanish or American preschool. And we are going to try to get the most out of it.