Domingos Jala Arota – living with the scars of war and polio
Being born into poverty is indeed a grave misfortune – a misfortune that, alas, many people around the world share. But Domingos Jala Arota, born on September 11, 1980 in Luabo, District of Chinde, Zambesi Province, Mozambique, was not just born poor – he lived most of his early life struggling in a country rife with civil war, and battling against the physical limitations of suffering from polio – a disease he contracted during his infancy.
Domingos was only four months old when he fell ill, suffering from intense headaches and immobility on his right leg. And since his parents had limited knowledge of modern medicine, they had a few consultations mostly involving traditional treatments, which yielded nothing in the end. Where they were living and effects of war also made proper medical care limited. It was only years later, a little too late, that Domingos himself found out that he had polio.
With the intensity of the ongoing civil war, his parents had no choice but to stop all treatment. In 1985, when Domingos was just five years old, his village was occupied, so the family found refuge in the Chinde District where he stayed for five years. The war brought with it serious consequences, one of which was Domingos’ late entry into school.
Finally, in 1990, at the age of ten, he managed to leave the village and go to Beira to follow his elder brother who had been demobilized from military life. However, his brother, along with other demobilized colleagues, set up a gang and began stealing cattle in Manica – a new “lifestyle” which eventually led to Domingos’ brother’s death.
In 1995, Domingos, hopeless and with no one to help him, without a job and no schooling, fled to ASEM for help. He was accepted at the Center together with another group of kids. Domingos was integrated and got all the necessary support: education, psychological support and, most importantly, a home where he felt loved.
By 1997, he was reintegrated into his family in Luabo. However, in 1998, he came back to Beira looking for a job since the conditions in his village were extremely difficult, and the prospects of him making a proper living were slim. He also wanted to continue with his secondary schooling, which was non-existent back home. To study, one had to walk 20 kilometers back and forth every day, which was a long distance, and was not at all possible due to his handicap. Considering the circumstances, ASEM, of course, received him despite his age. Back in ASEM, Domingos was again given a place to live and the support he needed to complete his secondary studies.
Domingos also began working at the Macurungo Center. Since then, he has held various positions at ASEM – from being an educator to being responsible for the Center, to being the secretary of the school and responsible for the school administration. Today, Domingos continues to play an active part as one of ASEM’s staff members.
He has also since moved on with his life and is happy to have been instrumental in helping other kids get the opportunities he had once received at ASEM. Today, Domingos has his own family and is proud the father of four children, all undergoing schooling. He is happy to be able to give a life of dignity to his children and his family – a life that he had only dreamed of once as he struggled to live with the ravages of the longstanding civil war, and his lifelong disability.
Zacarias Jose Ferro – Being Zacarias
We all know that the children of ASEM are unique individuals who each have their own story to tell… lives marked with the constant struggle to escape the clutches of material poverty through perseverance and determination. One such story is embodied in the life of Zacarias, now a young man working in the service of the community and the children of ASEM.
Born in Beira in June 1982, Zacarias’ time with his parents was short-lived since they were already divorced by the time he was three. Not knowing any of his siblings who had all died while he was still an infant, he was left in the care of his grandparents by his mother who had moved on with her life, eventually remarried and left the city.
Zacarias shared his grandparents’ home with two other cousins and managed to study until 5th grade while their grandmother eked out a living by cultivating a rice field 40 kilometers away from Beira City. But it was an unsustainable arrangement for the old lady, and it was at this stage that their grandmother sought the help of ASEM for her grandchildren.
At the age of twelve, Zacarias, along with his two cousins, was accommodated at the Macurungo Center early in 1995 and was able to continue his schooling. In 1999, he attended the Business & Management course and successfully completed it, which eventually led to his getting a job as a field assistant in ASEM in the year 2000. Then in 2003, he was promoted to work at the Logistics Department of ASEM, and was reintegrated in the same year to his grandmother’s home and community within the Macurungo Zone.
A diligent and hard worker, Zacarias was given a double-function job as a logistics and executive assistant in 2004 while also persevering further on advancing his educational qualifications by taking part in accounting and management training, which would complement the skills he was already applying in his new post.
After finishing his pre-university level requirements, Zacarias got a scholarship for university studies where he chose to study sociology for a period of four years. In the course of his studies while working, Zacarias had to attend evening classes 40 kilometers away from the city. He then became the Head of Human Resources at ASEM, and succeeded in moving on to the position of Administrative Assistant at ASEM.
Zacarias finished college in 2011, after which he began to apply the knowledge he acquired in the field of sociology. He focused on continuing and enhancing programs designed for caring for the children and their social integration. He now works as an educator and as head of the social sector serving more than 2,500 children and young people in difficult situations. He is especially proud of his current position as it enables him to present activities designed to assist children living in situations of vulnerability, and help them gain access to care and support.
To date, thousands of kids under his responsibility have been schooled and professionally trained, and hundreds of them are already integrated into the labor market. Zacarias finds this to be very rewarding, saying, “Being able to help children in difficult situations gives me a wonderful feeling, because seeing them succeed reminds me of how I once was and how ASEM made a huge difference in my life. I was able to go on this path, thanks to the efforts of all involved in ASEM and its sponsors… who believed in the potential of young people living under the worst conditions. Of course, I am especially grateful to our Mom Barbara, and I know all of us, her children, wish her good health always and more of God’s blessings. She is instrumental to our development… our growth into the people we are today.”
Living life still as a bachelor but with hopes of settling down one day, Zacarias continues to be driven by his mission to prepare the children of ASEM for life’s challenges and help them achieve a bright future, so that one day they will have the chance to walk on their own two feet, and perhaps even help others along the way.
José Castelo Valentim - The Ballad of José
If you happen to drop by our offices in Mozambique, you will come to realize, once you get to talking – really talking, with the people there, that each person has his or her own story to tell. One of those people is José Castelo Valentim. Like the others, José’s story is riddled with tragedy… but it is also a unique story of hope and strength in the face of tremendous adversity.
José was born on August 18, 1981 in Beira. In 1986, his father decided to sell their house, and the whole family left for their homeland, the city of Inhambane. Aside from José, the whole family moved, including José’s older sister and two younger brothers. At the time, José was only 5 years old. Two years later, in 1988, he started attending school in grade 1, thereafter, until grade 4 which he finished in Beira, due to the death of his father in 1991.
In Inhambane, another child was born, and with five children to support, José’s mother decided to return to Beira. The fatherless family had to contend with the challenges of poverty, scarce education and poor health, as well as the intensification of the civil war in 1991. They had to try to find a better life.
However, those who made the journey back to Beira were only four family members. José’s older sister had to stay back in Inhambane to attend to the process of her school transfer. Sadly, though, she never made it back to Beira, having become a casualty of the war in 1991.
José’s mother did all she could, taking small odd jobs wherever available to support her children – definitely not an easy life at all. José Castelo took care of his younger siblings at home, acting as both a father and brother figure.
Always on the lookout for a way to better her family situation, it was not long before José’s mother, in 1992, heard about “Aunty Barbara," who helps children in difficult situations in the area of Chipangara, also in Beira city. There, the children received drinking water and soup (it was during the drought and war). After attending during day, José went home with his brothers utterly convinced and hopeful.
After completing grade 5 at the end of 1992, José had to stop going to school due to the financial problems that continued to plague his family. That same year, ASEM’s Macurungo Center opened, and José began to attend in earnest along with his brothers. Here, they were able to have meals, schooling and then go home. In 1994, he and his three brothers officially started living at the ASEM Macurungo Center. ASEM then admitted their mother Cecilia as a cook at the center, and it was there that she worked until her death in 2006.
José Castelo finished grade 7 in 1997 by dutifully attending evening classes, as there were no more slots for students in the daytime programs. In 1998, José enrolled in the Industrial and Commercial School of Beira, studying to be a hydraulic systems technician (which he did not like). There were no more vacancies in the course he wanted which was civil construction (building), all supported by ASEM.
In 1999, thanks to the tireless efforts of ‘Momma Barbara’, José had the opportunity to receive training in Business & Management in Lamego, Nhamatanda, province of Sofala, for a period of 12 months, after which he was reintegrated with his family.
In the year 2000, José was admitted into the financial department of ASEM to work as an accounting assistant. He contributed in his capacity by helping develop and implement more objectives for the benefit of Mozambican children, supporting them in all their needs for their socio-economic independence.
Even in the midst of enormous challenges in his life, José Castelo worked hard to support his younger brothers, and continued to study in the evenings. In 2004, he successfully completed grade 12 (Pré-University), proving himself to be a man with well-defined and lofty dreams, always looking towards the future.
In 2006, he was appointed as Head of Human Resources (HR) and Financial Director at ASEM, to respond to the organizational needs and coordinate HR activities.
In 2010, he graduated from the College of Law at the University of Jean Piaget in Mozambique (Universidade Jean Piaget de Mozambique).
In 2011, he was appointed Director and Representative of ASEM Mozambique.
José now coordinates all activities of the organization, including the preparation and submission of proposals for donors/sponsors, as well as the assessment of the sustainability of projects. Tirelessly working for ASEM, José is aware and knows by experience the need for the full support of children in their integration into society, as they are and will continue to be, the ones who can effect change for human development in their country. Altogether, José is responsible for over 5,000 children and 150 employees.
Indeed, working, obtain his higher education and, at the same time, to educate his brothers, took great effort and perseverance, with the university some 30 miles away from Beira. José somehow managed to travel there by bus after each day's work.
Today, all of his brothers have a university degree, and they are all gainfully employed.
José says that academic challenges are a reality all students need to contend with, just like life struggles outside of school, but with commitment and a determination to succeed, anything is possible. He adds that everything in life requires sacrifice and a lot of willpower, and knowing the real reason for one’s existence.
With gratitude and a big smile, José says a big ‘thank you’ to all the “uncles and aunties,” bosses, brothers, sisters and friends at ASEM, and of ASEM. Most of all, José gives thanks to his other mother, Barbara, whom he also calls a dear Angel sent by God, because of the great role she played in molding him into the man he is now.