Interview with a Graduate of WFWP's School in Mozambique

By: Akiko Hozan, Project Director in Mozambique

International Service Projects - WFWP Japan

History of "The Sun of Mozambique School"

Akiko Hozan

The team visited a public school, while researching what type of project to create. All the windows in the school had been broken. There was not a single desk or chair left. The walls were covered with graffiti and drawings of Che Guevara, a communist revolutionary. The devastating condition of the school was one example of the extent of destruction in the nation.

In an effort to conduct a needs analysis, the team began to learn Portuguese. Repeating the same questions, the team took questionnaires from more than 800 citizens in Maputo, the nation's capital, as well as in Beira, the second largest city. From the results, we understood the serious and urgent need for a school construction project.

In March, 1995, we built a junior high school named "The Sun of Mozambique School" with a shabby straw-thatched roof in the second city Beira. We started with just two classrooms and 44 students in total. The teachers were hired on a part-time basis from the nearby public school. No one complained about this humble school as the local people had a strong desire to have any school, even under a tree, as soon as possible. One student enrolled at this early stage later entered and graduated from the Architecture Department at Eduardo Mondlane University, the toughest, most prestigious university in the country. Sun of Mozambique Classroom

In 1997, the construction of an iron reinforced school building began. The small school building of only 5 classrooms, cost $40,000 and was completed in 1998.

At that time, building something starting from the foundation was big news. TV reporters covered the story repeatedly. The team of volunteers sold 2,000 T-shirts in Japan to help raise funds to cover construction costs. The shirts had a unique design: a sketch of daily life in Mozambique drawn by Mr. Malangatana, the most famous painter in Mozambique. He honored our request to create this original design to support the school project.

In 2001, many years of additional planning and fundraising by the WFWP volunteers culminated in the opening of a high school. The number of graduates who enter the National University has increased steadily since 2004. As of this writing, more than 250 students have successfully entered the National University. Six students are studying under government scholarships in undergraduate and graduate courses in other countries, such as Malaysia and India.

The number of students enrolled in our schools has increased from 44 students since the inauguration in 1995 to 607 students in 2012.

Mataraje BernardoIntroducing an Exceptional Student

Mataraje Agostinho Bernardo, a second-year high school student in the science program, achieved the best academic results of any student since the school opened in 1995. His average grade for the seven subjects he is taking is 17 points. The average grade at the school is around 10 points. Mataraje's academic performance has been astounding. His grades are 18 points in Physics, chemistry and biology, 17 points in mathematics, 16 in national language (Portuguese), English 15, and philosophy, 16 points. Twenty points is a perfect score. His academic performance has reached the highest level in the nation. He achieved this academic excellence despite an environment where high school textbooks and study books are in extremely short supply. The only academic resource for students is the content teachers provide in the classroom. This is a testament to the focus, determination and strong effort of Mataraje.

In January, Mataraje won admission into the Electronic Engineering, Engineering Faculty program, at Eduardo Mondlane University.


Interview of Mataraje Bernardo by Akiko Hozan (AH).

AH: Congratulations! You graduated from high school with outstanding academic results? Could you tell us about your study habits?

Mataraje: I studied biology, national language (Portuguese), English and philosophy for two hours at the library starting at 8:00 AM every day. These four subjects require readings, but I could not read at home as our home is dark at night due to insufficient electricity. So I decided to study in the morning. At 10:00 AM I returned home to prepare for classes that began at 1:00 PM. (In our school, all the classrooms operate on a rotating system, i.e. classes for junior high school are in the morning and for senior high school in the afternoon.) After I got home from school, I studied math, physics and chemistry from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

AH: So you studied four hours a day in addition to classes at school, is that right? It must have taken a lot of self-discipline for you to keep this daily routine.

Mataraje: I wake up at 7:00 AM and I become very sleepy around 10:00 PM

AH: I see. When you need rest, you rest well; and when you study, you focus on studying wholeheartedly. How did you prepare yourself for the university entrance exams? The two required subjects for exams by the Electronic Engineering, Engineering Faculty, Eduardo Mondlane University are math and physics, right?"

Mataraje: I studied math from 7:00AM until 10:00AM, and physics from 2:00 PM to 5:00PM. I copied the entire Brazilian study books that have abundant exercise problems, and made it a rule to solve them on a daily basis."

AH: You copied the entire 450 pages of the study books? The copy fees must have been pretty hefty. And you made several copies. This shows your extraordinary efforts to prepare well for the entrance exams. (Since I came to Africa, I have seen many students who study with books borrowed from the library, but he is the first one I encountered, who made his own study book by entirely copying the books. The monthly salary for Mataraje's father is US $ 150, and Mataraje is the oldest of six brothers and sisters. It must have been very hard for his family to squeeze money for the copy fee. We have decided to keep duplicates of his copied study books at the school library. He happily lent them to us to copy them. When I thought of it, this was my first experience of borrowing books from a student and copying them.) By the way, why did you change from the public school of more than 2,000 students you attended in your first year of high school to Sun of Mozambique school for your second year?

Mataraje: In the public high school I used to attend, there were 90 students assigned to a class. Only half of the students had desks and chairs. The rest sat on the cement floor to study. This created inconveniences. For instance, even if I secured my desk by going to class very early in the morning, if I left my classroom for even a brief moment, someone else would take my seat and I was unable to use it any longer. I thought tuition for Sun of Mozambique School would be expensive as it was a private high school. But I found the tuition was actually affordable even for our family. Also, library books at Sun of Mozambique School are more abundant. So I decided to move to this school. Since then, I am liberated from my constant worries that someone will take away my desk. I appreciate the sense of security brought by having my own desk at school.

AH: You were studying hard during vacations between the semesters, weren't you?

Mataraje: I put lots of energy into prep work and reviews. I tried to study all the contents of what I would learn during an upcoming semester before the semester began. That way I was hoping to ask questions in class on what I could not comprehend.

AH: The chemistry and math teachers said to me, "We have to prepare very well for classes we teach, since Mataraje will throw such sharp questions at us. They are tough to answer if we come to classes unprepared. The teachers also said, "Mataraje studies lecture contents beforehand more than we do." The biology teacher showed me your academic results from second semester. I saw a list of 20 points, perfect scores for the small tests. The teacher also said, "Mataraje is a genius. I have never seen such an outstanding student of academic excellence in my life." He said with great disappointment, "I was wishing he would go to the Medical Department, but he said he preferred the Electronic Engineering Department. It's too bad!"

What made you decide to go to the Electronic Engineering Department?

Mataraje: My real dream is to study astronomy. But there is no university in Mozambique that has an Astronomy Department. So, I decided on the Electronic Engineering Department as an alternative.

AH: I do hope you'll realize your dream by all means. A college professor in Japan told me that math, physics and English are prerequisites for a major in astronomy.

Mataraje: I would like to study these three subjects hard as an undergraduate, as I am very interested in them. I also want to learn astronomy at a graduate school in a foreign country. However, I am worried that there may be no place that will accept me after I return to Mozambique.

AH: It would be 7 or 8 years later when you return from a graduate school in a foreign country, wouldn't it? Astronomy may be needed in Mozambique around that time. So why don't you pioneer a path of astronomy?

Mataraje: I will try not to give up my dream.

Mataraje entered elementary school in 2000 at age nine. At that time, students had to pay tuition even at the public school. His father was unemployed and could not send his son to the elementary school. But later the school became free of tuitions, so he was able to go to school. Since then, he has achieved the most outstanding academic results of any other students in the public elementary, junior and senior high schools among several thousand students. Mataraje will be 21 years old soon. During the interview, he responded to the questions as sharply as a sword point. As a student, he listened well with full attention. If what he heard was unclear, he raised questions and kept asking until he understood fully. More than 8,000 students have studied at Sun of Mozambique School so far. Among them, Mataraje stands out as one of the best. We sincerely wish him a fruitful life at the university. We will watch him warmly until his dream of studying astronomy comes true.