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Victoria Gimo (left) and Nelsa Dique braid Priscila Santana’s hair at The United Church of Christ-American Board, Girls Home, located in the Machanga district of Mozambique. Santana, of Brazil, is a friend, mentor and informal teacher with the girls at the center as a participant in YAMEN!, a program of Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference. (Photo courtesy of Berta Machava)

Victoria Gimo (left) and Nelsa Dique braid Priscila Santana’s hair at The United Church of Christ-American Board, Girls Home, located in the Machanga district of Mozambique. Santana, of Brazil, is a friend, mentor and informal teacher with the girls at the center as a participant in YAMEN!, a program of Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference. (Photo courtesy of Berta Machava)

From urban Brazil to rural Mozambique

Emily Will
June 7, 2011


AKRON, Pa. – From fielding unusual theological questions – “If God is up there, why didn’t the astronauts see God?” – to a weekly bath in the river while gathering clams for suppertime soup, Priscila Santana is finishing a year that couldn’t be more different from her life growing up.

One of São Paulo’s 11.2-million inhabitants, the 28-year-old Brazilian woman now serves at a home away from home for female students in Mozambique, whose families live in such remote places that at least one student has to canoe across a major river to visit her family on holidays.

As a participant in Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network! (YAMEN!), a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC), Santana serves as a resident counselor, informal teacher and friend – a role the students affectionately term “titia” or “auntie.”

She lives and works at The United Church of Christ-American Board, Girls Home, located in the Machanga district of Mozambique, on Africa’s southeast coast. By providing room and board, the home allows about 40 girls to attend school at the nearby Machanga Secondary School.

“There’s no better reward than seeing the girls asking for books, reading their poems aloud, practicing the English we had learned, just even seeing their smiles when they’re able to understand things that at first seemed impossible for them to do,” she said.

This year, Santana is one of nine participants in YAMEN!, a program that emphasizes expanding the fellowship between churches in the Anabaptist tradition and developing young leaders around the globe. Young adults, ages 18-30, from countries beyond Canada and the U.S., spend one year in a cross-cultural assignment.

Santana teaches a variety of subjects to the home’s 44 young women, ages 13 to 23, who live at the home and study in grades 7 through 12. Since her mother language, Portuguese, is also Mozambique’s official language and the language used in the classroom, Santana helps many of the girls with reading and writing Portuguese. Many students are not fluent in Portuguese, because their first language is Ndau, the local dialect.

She also teaches classes informally in geography, English and art, using games, poetry, physical activities and handicrafts as teaching tools. Santana improved her own English skills as a participant in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). She spent 2003-2004 in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., working at Waterloo Generations Thrift Store.

Mutual learning takes place in the give-and-take of daily life in the home’s family-like atmosphere. “Auntie” Santana teaches her “nieces” how she uses silverware at the table; they show her how to braid hair in new ways. She demonstrates a craft using recycled materials; the girls teach her how to rejoice in simple things, such as rain that revives the greenery.

“Once we took a day to enjoy the heavy and long rain God sent us; we spent about two hours singing and dancing in it,” Santana said.

Santana advocates for girls’ education. “Mozambican women don’t have the same opportunities or rights as men. That’s one of the main reasons I came,” she said. “I strongly believe educating girls brings the changes and development any society needs. And I wanted the girls at the school to learn how to dream and to pursue their dreams and goals.”

This is the first year that the home will graduate three young women. “This is a great thing to celebrate as it’s not common for women in the area to go this far with their education,” Santana said.

In rural areas like Machanga, Mozambican girls usually are kept home to work in the family’s fields or sent out to earn wages as maids. Their parents arrange marriages for them, often at age 16 or before. “I felt so sad to know four girls didn’t come back this year because they were to get married. One was only 14,” Santana said.

At the home, the wake-up bell rings at 4:45 a.m. “By 9 a.m., I’ve had breakfast, swept and mopped the floor, taken a bucket shower and am ready for one of my morning classes,” Santana said. The young women have daily chores that include cleaning the yard, watering the vegetable garden and taking the goats out to pasture. The home’s gates close at 6 p.m., with evening prayers and bedtime at 8 p.m., the time when São Paulo comes alive, according to Santana.

Having grown up in one of the world’s largest cities, with access to all imaginable shops, facilities and technology, Santana said she has learned that a simpler style of living brings her closer to creation and the Creator.

That’s one of the messages she wants to bring to her home church, Igreja Evangélica Menonita de Interlagos, São Paulo. She also hopes to link people of faith she knows in Mozambique and Brazil, helping them to realize they not only share the same language and slave background, but also a common faith and walk together as God’s children.

For more information on YAMEN!, visit yamen.mcc.org.

 


 

The other participants in this year’s YAMEN! program include:

Noel Sequeira Hernandez of the Principe de Paz Mennonite Church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, serving in Honduras; Sindy Johanna Novoa Caro of the Casa de Oración in Bogotá, Colombia, serving in Honduras; Consuelo Mendoza Barillas of the Convención de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas in Managua, Nicaragua, serving in Bolivia; Sandy Corina Wall Hein of the Evangelische Mennoniten Gemeinde in Fildelfia, Paraguay, serving in Nicaragua; Clifford Sibanda of the Brethren in Christ Church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, serving in Mexico; Nompilo Sibanda also of  the  Brethren in Christ Church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, serving in Mexico; Anielle Immanuel Santoso of the Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) in Kudus, Indonesia, serving in Nepal; and Rina Ristanami of the Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ) in Jepara, Indonesia, serving in Korea.