There are numerous challenges to maintaining professional outlets to stay connected to one’s career, skill set, and passions as an “Eligible Family Member” of a Foreign Service Officer. For me, discovering the opportunity to facilitate English Club sessions at the Martin Luther King Jr. American Cultural Center in Maputo, Mozambique, has been a great outlet as a life coach and civic engagement advisor. When I began facilitating sessions, the most I could have imagined was the chance to keep my facilitation and coaching skills fresh and help participants strengthen their English language proficiency.
What I experienced over the last year and a half has been so much more. The English Club, recently registered as the NGO Moringa, has grown in participation from students and unemployed youth-- approximately 65 percent of Mozambique’s population is under 25 years of age -- to include seasoned government and private sector professionals nearing retirement. On any given day, 60 or more participants might attend one of the five daily English club sessions. The club has grown to include specialized groups that focus on particular types of English language communication, the most popular of which is “English for Tourism.” Participants undoubtedly hope to use their improved English skills to be competitive tour guides or operators in Mozambique’s burgeoning tourism industry. One can’t blame them considering the country’s 1,500 miles of beautiful coastline and rich cultural heritage.
As the capital city of Mozambique, Maputo has a growing expat population, including many Anglophones, with expanding tourism opportunities. The “English for Tourism” group started in 2015 because of a relationship between the American Cultural Center and a tour company providing services in English. It began as an opportunity to practice speaking English with tourists and other visitors that might ask for directions or recommendations. As the club expanded, the students received requests to serve as guides for visitors coming to the cultural center.
Participants were soon leading tours for the company in their free time. The popularity of the tours has grown and created opportunities for English Club participants to launch their own independent tour guide services. It has been nothing short of inspiring to observe the evolution of these young entrepreneurs as a professional coach. They have created a model that moves the English Club beyond a gathering and conversation place to a professional development opportunity. Most importantly, they have increased their own self-confidence and developed valuable entrepreneurial skills.
As a result of the exposure from the tour guides services, participants have been presented a variety of professional and educational opportunities. Many have received scholarships to pursue studies in Mozambique or abroad. One “English for Tourism” alumnus even began doing voiceovers for a studio in East Africa. Regardless of their path, they all have one thing in common. They would not have had these opportunities without participating in the U.S. Embassy’s English Club. And I wouldn’t have had such a fulfilling time in Maputo as an Eligible Family Member without them.
In honor of the UN World English Language Day, I applaud the work of the Martin Luther King Jr. American Cultural Center, its staff, participants and volunteers, in Maputo, Mozambique in leveraging the opportunity for English language learning into a human capital and community development pathway.
About the Author: Jeffrey Richardson serves at U.S. Embassy Maputo.
Editor’s Note: English Language Day at the United Nations (UN) is celebrated on April 23, the date traditionally observed as both the birthday and date of death of William Shakespeare. The Day is the result of a 2010 initiative by the Department of Public Information, establishing language days for each of the Organization's six official languages. The purpose of the UN's language days is to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity. This blog is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.