In my last entry I promised to tell you about a cooperation project which might actually work not only in theory but in practice. We discovered it by chance: our lovely landlady from Casa Amarela in the city of São Tomé, Nora, is actually responsible for the project and after she told us about it we decided we wanted to see the place.
We arrived at Roça Diogo Vaz late in the afternoon. It was no different from the other ones we'd visited: beautiful old buildings, now inhabited by random villagers. Most houses nearly derelict, an old Portuguese road invaded by grass, children shouting "docedocedoce!" in our direction... We followed the "Escola do Campo" sign and took the small road, which crept down in the shade of cocoa plants. Soon we reached what used to be the Roça's hospital.
A tall man came to greet us. He spoke with an accent slightly different from all the others, which later turned out to be Caboverdian. His name was Gustavo and, as headmaster, he introduced us to the well-coordinated mechanism that the school was.
The hospital had been turned into a boarding school, with pleasant rooms for the students, a common room fitted with comfy sofas, a computer room with internet (!) and several workshops. Students (teenage boys) pay very little - 100 000 dobras (4 euros) a month - and they learn various practical things: computer science, agriculture, sewing, carpentry, handicraft, English and even how to be a tourist guide. Above all, however, they learn responsibility. They learn that in life very few things are for free. And they learn the value and importance of work. How? Well, they participate in the classes I mentioned but there are more duties than that. They wake up at 5:30 am and clean the school. One of them takes a taxi to town to get bread for breakfast, while the others get everything organised and prepare the meal. They tend to the school's vegetable garden and they have kitchen duties. Apart from teaching, they take care of everything at school, including the tourists. And the discipline is stunning.
To give you an idea of how difficult it is to achieve all this, let me digress a little. While visiting the school, we were shown a room full of toys and games for little children. We asked if Escola do Campo had a pre-school as well, and were told that it was not the case but that in the same building there was a public elementary school. Why all the toys then?, we asked. Gustavo explained that once a week they invite the little ones to play. Not to give them a chance to enjoy the nice toys, though, but to teach them to tidy up the room and put away all the toys after they've finished. Because otherwise these children will become adults who don't feel any kind of responsibility whatsoever.
Interesting as the project seemed, it was not the only reason we went. In the end, we were tourists. Escola do Campo is, however, more than just a school. It receives tourists, who may choose between a fantastic spacious room in the "Hobbit's house" on the ground floor of the hospital building and two lovely rooms with ensuite bathrooms on the same floor as the students' dormitories, if you want to mingle a bit. Gustavo and the boys will attend to all your needs, including decorating the breakfast table with flowers. It is surprisingly cheap: 15 euro per room, including breakfast. Lunch costs 5 euro per person. You eat with the boys, which greatly adds to the experience. If you wish, the students, trained by a professional guide, will take you for a trip. We visited the cocoa plantantion and went hiking through spooky tunnels to reach a wonderful waterfall. Our guides were very attentive and answered all of our questions. Both trips cost us as little as 15 euros. Also, we bought souvernirs, which are made by students in they handicraft class and sold by them personally (thus they see the actual money that work brings). We were impressed.
For those who want to get involved in the project, still a different option is possible. You may stay at the school and be shown around for free but in return you should organise a workshop for the boys and teach them something you're good at. If we had had more time, I would've been more than thrilled to try that!
And now the sad part. The school is not financed by the state. It gets by thanks to donations. If you know of anybody who would like to help, let me know. It's worth it. I think the money we left there was the best investment we've made in months.