Entrevista: Conversations on Education, an interview to Peter Sander

*Entrevista Celia Márquez Coello
 Fotografías_ Celia Márquez Coello y Leyre Martín Rodríguez

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I met Peter in August 2015 when he invited me to work as a volunteer in the Community Preschool Education Project Escolinha Nhassanana. He had started to coordinate this project three years before and since then, has been developing this dream with foreign funds and donations. Nhassanana is opened to any child of the city but pays special attention to the local community.

It is easy to understand what it means undertaking such a project by living with Peter in this place for more than a month. Be it for the funding o for the desperately slow rhythm of Mozambican bureaucracy, or just because of cultural differences it is extremely demanding.

By interviewing him we wanted to share his experience. Peter smiles and speaks proudly of this project, its past and its future and the construction of the site and its materials. Making use of his experience as a Occupational Therapist/learning coach in Germany and in Mozambican he presented similarities and differences between both education systems.

In a country where the Development Index is one the lowest in the world, people as Peter, who dream of securing and developing skills of new generations, are so much needed to improve the life of people.

We were keen to know what has lead Peter to build the Escolinha  with natural material and traditional techniques. Josep, from Arquitectos sin Fronteras, was in charge of the design of the classrooms and site plan. Sara Marquez Martin, member of Garam Masala, designed and encouraged participatory building of the playground.  It is very interesting and yet sad to hear Peter talk about traditional building and natural materials as low cost and less valued that block and tin. We hope that the excellent traditional building will not turn into a conventional hot tin classrooms and the magic and security of this place remains.

When did you arrive in Mozambique?

I have been living in Mozambique since 2010. It was the second time I came here to visit my family, first time in 2005. On this second trip, meant to be for a month I luckily found a job.

When and why did you decide to start this adventure: Community Preschool Education Project Escolinha Nhassanana)?

I’m an occupational therapist/ lerning coach and I had already worked with children in Germany. It is a job I love.. I think it is very important to work with children in Mozambique because there is still a huge void to be develop in the children sector education (kindergartens, schools…). So when I came I started to organize a project which started in 2011. At that time we had a small place close to the beach to beguin developing the project. In 2012 I found the Positivo Mozambique association. Together we decided we would move the kindergarten closer to the community. We started to build the kindergarten here, opening in 2013 with just one classroom and one toilet room.

So is this a team project?

Yeah, this is the project of Positivo, from Inhambane. We can call ourselves volunteers because for the moment we don´t have salaries (minimu salary 100€), just a month allowance. We tried to build a good kindergarten for the community where children could play, grow up and
develop their skills. At the same time it creates jobs for the community: the cleaning woman, the cook, the night guards, teachers, half of whom are from the community. We are proud of this help.

What was the most difficult situation you had to deal with?

Well, that is a difficult question. We had some tasks to manage, especially when we were building and organizing
materials and builders. . Classrooms, toilets and rooms were done with local materials: palm leaves, reed, dried grass,  coconut wood, etc… it was a hard work.

What I think was also difficult at the beginning was dealing with the employees. In the beginning, salaries were really low, about 50 € for teachers and 30 € for the cook. Now they have raised to 75 € respectively, numbers that we still want to raise.  Sometimes, this is hard for me because I have to offer them that motivation that money can’t bring itself.

Moreover, we try to train workers through daily planning and evaluation of their work. And that is not easy when they have such a tough work here: So many kids from 8 to 15:30. It is about finding a good balance.

Who were the constructors?

Local people, artisans, etc. We called one teacher’s brother and he made most of the construction. It wasn’t an easy task but we managed it.

And why did you use local materials?

We used traditional materials as the grass and palm-leaves because they are much cheaper. We have around 200 square meters, and to build with stone and cement is a much more expensive. Furthermore, money came step by step, unfortunately 15.000 euros didn’t arrive together. In the future we want to build with stone because local materials are just for a limited time, around 7 to 10 years, and then we have to renew the roof which means extra cost. We are trying to gather funds to build good cement houses, classrooms, a kitchen…  So we can say we can work for a long long time, say that we have a fixed place for pre-school education.  Maybe a time will come when we can offer primary education, do a mix between pre-school education and primary school. We will write the project to find donations and build this one day.

 


You have talked about how important you think education is in Mozambique. What do you think about the educational system in Mozambique? How do you think it is related to human development?

Education is always very important. From the first days of our lives to the last ones we are in it. In Mozambique, life is difficult for most of the people. Parents are working from morning till evening to get small salaries, although it rises a
little every year. Women are normally at home cleaning, cooking, washing clothes… most times without electricity or running water. That is a hard life. It is normal that they don’t think too much about their children’s education.

On the other side, what I can see at communities and schools is that government education budget is not enough. There are some schools where you can find 50 or 60 children per classroom. Those are too many pupils for any teachers. A lot of help and good ideas are needed to develop
the educational sector in Mozambique.

I believe that until we achieve to develop educational sector and human lives, it will not be possible to raise the human development index. I think it goes all together a little bit.

Do you find many differences between Mozambican and European teachers in, especially German ones?

petersanders_nhassanana(16)Yeah, there are differences. In Germany a classroom group has around 20 children while in Mozambique I have already seen 80 pupil classrooms. This is the first difference. It means that the way of teaching changes because it is different for a teacher to deal with small or big groups.

Mozambican’s way of life is also an important fact. Here, primary school teachers will start working after just one year of studies. I think just one year of studying education to teach children is not enough! There in Germany, a teacher studies a minimum of five years before starting to work. For example, I studied occupational training for 3
years and then I had extra studies. For Mozambican teachers it is very hard to get these extra studies because they are more expensive that what they earn. It is almost impossible. It is because of the teachers lack of education that methods and teaching ways are much poorer here in Mozambique than in Europe. People are occupied in small things during the day and they don’t have enough time for more studying or developing their knowledge.

Let’s go back to materials and construction of the
escolinha. How do you think the environment can affect the children and their education?

Well, from Monday to Friday these children come to the escolinha, and spend a lot of hours here. I think it is important for them to be in a secure place. I believe that until you feel secure in your life is when you won’t be ready to start learning. I think we built a secure place for the children.

petersanders_nhassanana(18)Moreover, they have the possibility to develop their skills. These years, between three and six, are important on their skills gain and their learning. Here they can play in the playground and use materials that we have in the classrooms. They can play with chalks and boards, toys, they can look at the books and images with the teachers… I think all of that is very important.



What makes you proud of this job?

I feel I am training the next generation. We have to carry them knowing that they will carry us in the future and also carry the next generation that will come. It makes me proud to help them growing up and to be part of their lives.petersanders_nhassanana(19)

As well, it makes me proud that we could build this places by offering people a place to work. What is more showing them what is possible to achieve when you come together with the same vision or good plan. That makes me very proud. This kindergarten is a team. We are already ten and in the beginning we were only two teachers. We also get volunteers like you, like Leyre Martin and Javier Trenor-. Next week we will get another two volunteers that will stay the whole year. It makes me proud to see European volunteers experiencing this!. And yet, the most important point and what makes me really proud is having created a place where children have a secure place to develop their skills and grow up happy.

That is beautiful. Thank you very much and good luck.

 

petersanders_nhassanana(17)Peter Sanders 

Contact: peter.sander@nhassanana.org 

1984 Peter Sander is born in Senftenberg/Germany

2005 first visit to Mozambique to know his Mozambican father and family

2005-2008 Studies to an Occupational therapist in Görlitz/Germany

2008-2010 works as Occupational therapist/learning coach in Hamburg/Germany

2010-2013 Teacher in Inhambane/Mozambique