Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Help Benet go to college!

This is an initiative started by my fellow hard-working Peace Corps Volunteers who worked in Chibuto from 2009-2011. The most rewarding work we did was youth development programs. We discovered some incredibly gifted youth who had not been given much opportunity, but whom were willing to work hard to change their own lives for the better despite the lack of opportunities. And it is paying off for a few lucky ones like Benet...read below to see how you can help him go to college. Benet became involved in the youth programs when I had about 6 months of service left and I was moved to tears when I received this update about how well he has been doing for himself.

Hi Everyone!

Please take a moment to read the letter below about the scholarship
(Todos Pelos Estudos) that Alycia and I are starting in Chibuto,
Mozambique. I also encourage you to forward this to family and


I’d like to introduce you to Bénet André Mutuque. In 2011, Bénet
graduated 12th grade from Escola Secundária de Chibuto in Gaza
province, Mozambique. Bénet is an exceptional student, not only for
his academic achievement but for his self-starter motivation,
community involvement, and unwavering positive attitude.

Mid-way through his senior year, I asked Bénet what he wanted to do
when he graduated. Without hesitation, he said he wanted to go to
University. With a strong interest in technical drawing and art, he
wants to someday be an architect. Impressed with his foresight and
planning, I asked him if he would be able to accomplish this goal.
Unfortunately, he answered that the cost of post-secondary education
prohibited him from doing so. Bénet lives with his sister and
brother-in-law who had the means to support him through secondary
school, but would not be able to do so through University.

The cost for a student to attend University for 1-year is only 735
USD, which includes all costs for matriculation and exams as well as
housing. I had only to think about this for a moment before realizing
that as a returned Peace Corps volunteer and a proponent of education,
I (and by extension, you) could make a real difference in this
student’s life.

With the promise of a scholarship, Bénet has passed his entrance exams
and secured a spot at a University where he will study to be a teacher
for art/technical drawing. In a country with a severe shortage of
teachers, this is a noble endeavor, and we will do everything we can
to support Bénet and other students in the future in their pursuit of
higher education.

--How can you help?--

While we are working to establish this program as a non-profit to
allow for tax deductible donations, we have not yet achieved that
status (we need to find ourselves a lawyer!). In the meantime, we are
reaching out to family and friends to make small donations. Please
forward this to anyone and everyone; the link below will allow you to
donate directly to our scholarship through a PayPal account. Anything,
even $1 helps. All donations will go directly towards the scholarship;
the only administrative costs are those associated with PayPal
payments and the bank fee to wire funds to Mozambique.


--Who is Bénet?--

The first time I met Bénet, he showed up in our REDES room (a room
dedicated to an extracurricular program supporting girls in education,
development, and health) with an idea. Bénet loves to draw, and he
wanted to organize an art show with pieces that showcase women’s
empowerment and healthy life choices. And that was just the start,
throughout my two years in Chibuto, Bénet continuously participated
and led activities and events in the school, the community, and even
at provincial and national events.

In 2010, Bénet participated in an entrepreneurship course that
culminated in a competition to win funding to start a small business.
While the judges did not select Bénet’s business proposal, to raise
and sell chickens, he didn’t give up. He went on to submit his
proposal to an organization based in Portugal, Primeiro Passo, that
supports small business development projects that benefit both the
individual and the larger community. With funding from Primeiro Passo,
Bénet implemented his plan and has been operating his chicken business
ever since!

Bénet particularly drew our attention with dedication to peer
education and raising public awareness about pertinent health issues.
As an active participant and leader in a group called Geração BIZ,
Bénet trained as an Activista (an individual who is educated in health
topics from reproductive health to HIV). He then went out into his
community and to his fellow students to educate and support his peers.

--The Mozambican School System--

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the school system in
Mozambique, completing the 12th grade and passing the national exams,
is a major accomplishment. Secondary school in Mozambique is split
into two cycles, 8th-10th grade and 11th-12th grade. Only a small
group of motivated students are lucky enough to have the opportunity
to continue their education beyond the 10th grade, and even fewer
still have the opportunity for higher education. Upon entering the
11th grade, students choose an academic focus, either humanities or
science, and take core curriculum classes such as Math and Language
Arts as well as classes specific to their academic track. While
8th-10th grade curriculums are by no means easy, the 11th and 12th
grade curriculums are extremely difficult and often comparable to the
AP classes we are accustomed to in the US. While completing the 11th
and 12th grade is an achievement in itself, students are additionally
required to pass very difficult national exams to receive a diploma.

Beyond the 12th grade, opportunities for students are limited,
especially in the rural areas of Mozambique. While there are a number
of universities, technical institutions, and teacher training
institutes, open spaces are limited, costs are high, and often an
inside connection is needed to secure a spot. The best students from
rural areas compete with students from the capitol cities for these
spots, and often times logistical, financial, and academic
circumstances award the opportunities to the city students. Seeing
these challenges first hand, and knowing the potential of the best
students from the rural schools, Alycia and I wanted to do something
to provide an opportunity to motivated and high performing students
who would otherwise not have the means to attend University. We
decided to start a scholarship to be awarded to a student graduating
from Escola Secundária de Chibuto. Initially the scholarship will be
awarded to one student at a time and will cover the costs associated
with attending university for up to 4 years; eventually, with enough
fundraising, we would like to award one scholarship per year.


Update on the cultural center many of you helped fund

Dear friends and family,

 You may be surprised to see this post since I returned from my Peace Corps service in Mozambique over a year and a half ago. However, G-PROIL (The Group for the Promotion of Local Initiatives) shared a report to explain, mainly through pictures, the progress they have made and the events that they have held at the cultural center. I wanted to share it with you because this project would not have turned into a reality without your support and prayers. Although starting a cultural center was no easy task, many dedicated community members came together to create a space to celebrate culture and cultivate talents in youth. I hope you enjoy the photos and hearing from G-PROIL. I am really proud of the successes they’ve accomplished in their first year and hope that they will continue to overcome obstacles in the future. May the cultural center enrich the lives of the community for many years to come! Thanks again for your help and investing in the project. I look forward to visiting the cultural center in a few weeks when I return to Mozambique do so an internship with USAID. I will also be picking up on my blog so look out for new posts!

This report comes directly from the project managers, Binaisa and Benjamin
Gracey Uffman, we want to thank you for all what you have done for this association and for the people in Chibuto. We want to thank too, you family, your church and Peace Corp. We just hope that everything is going, the way you have planned there. Here, we are fine. But, words for what? The pictures are going to talk more than them. G-PROIL wants you to know about the project you have helped us to build here in Chibuto, which is the Cultural Centre “Xiwa Niku Pfuka” which means in English “ Fall and Rise”. But is not just giving information about what we are doing, is to show too, what we are doing. That is why; we have prepared photos that are going to help you to see what we are doing in the cultural centre. By these photos, we pretend to tell a little bit of the story and progress of this project. G-PROIL, represented by Binaisa Maposse at the left side, the president of this association, on February 2011, signed a contract of 5 years with Benjamin Sitoe the owner of the complex, at the right side.
Here is the president of G- PROIL, signing the contract. 
Here is the owner of the complex signing too
After signing, we were all happy with the contract, we have signed 
The place hired to use as the cultural Centre, out side the complex. 
At this complex, we have hired this office, which is the office of the cultural centre and G-PROIL. This was before painting the office.
After painting the office
Besides the office, we have hired this place too, in this complex, where the artists rehearse.
This day, they were dancing Galanga and Xigubo, a typical dancing of the South of Mozambique. 
This is the first group of students we had in the cultural centre, composed by more than 25 students and 5 teachers at the back.
PCVs Erica and Alycia helped out a great deal.
 Of course, we didn’t stop by here, but we have been trying to have a small number of the talents that we discover because of the costs, it takes. We would like to have as much as possible number of students, but is not easy to keep, feed and control a large number of students, still. First, because the group of management in the cultural centre, still learning on how to manage a cultural centre and it should be with a small number of students, second, because buying equipment, instruments and feeding the artists during the travelling, it’s not easy, considering the fact that we don’t have still, a sponsor. Nevertheless, when we can compose or create a group like these, even with the poor resources that we have, it makes us proud and believe that our dreams in a short space of time are going to become true. 
This is the group of dancing
This is the group of fashion show, wearing bags of one of the Chibuto designer 
This is the fashion show in the community
 This is the group of theater
Theater 2
When it comes to painting and drawing, we started producing this type of pictures, which is produced using local material, like reed, paper, paintings, etc. We hope that in future more kids, youths and adults can embrace this activity. The picture was offer to a school to motivate teachers and students to produce them at primary schools.
Through 2011, our first year of work, not everything went as we have planned, we would like to travel more than what we did. Change experience with another cultural groups around Chibuto and outside Chibuto, but conditions do not allowed us to do so. But we want to thank the local government that made partnership with a group of Zimbabwe. They made it possible, for the group to come to Mozambique in Chibuto and we have learned a lot from them. 
Another challenge we had, was to guarantee food for the artists during their rehearsing and when we have shows. Here are the students cooking by themselves, what allow them to learn home economics among themselves.   
This is the dancing group, preparing the table for them to eat. It allows them too to socialize, have  spirit of help and unity.   
They are now at the table eating
The director with a jersey, coordinator with a yellow shirt and the DJ, eating after a long  job at the cultural centre.
This is the group that has been fighting to keep the cultural centre going. 
I hope that in the near future, I’ll send you, other information. But I have to tell you that we already have a land to build the cultural centre, it 40m × 40m. It is at Chimundo, not far from where the cultural centre is now. Unfortunately, our camera is broken, but I’ll find ways to have photos of the land. So, we still have those coming four years to build the cultural centre. On my behalf and on behalf of G-PROIL and all the Volunteers of the Cultural Centre “Xiwa Niku Pfuka”, we promise you to continue fighting to keep this project going. All the best for you and all the people around you THANK YOU GRACEY OBRIGADA GRACEY KANIMAMBO GRACEY