St. Helena Island native helps bring hope to village in Mozambique

info@islandpacket.comOctober 7, 2013 

Mac Segars of St. Helena Island with students in Mozambique, Africa, where he is a Peace Corps volunteer.

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    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Mary Segars of St. Helena Island for sharing the story of her son's experience in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Mary and her husband, Dr. Al Segars, S.C. Department of Natural Resources veterinarian and stewardship coordinator of the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve, have lived here for 17 years. Their son Mac's commitment to the Peace Corps ends in December. He holds a degree in math from Clemson University. Their son Luke works for Google in San Franciso and Gray works with a church in Seattle.

Mary is an artist and art instructor. She is part of the Atelier on Bay gallery above the old Lipsitz store in Beaufort. And she is part of the Maye River Gallery in Bluffton, where the artists are donating 10 percent of their sales this month to Mac's school in Africa.

"They Deserve More"

By Mary Segars

They come because they want to learn. Many of them walk for miles each way; others have to canoe across the river. These are the students who attend school in rural Mozambique, in the village where my son, Mac, teaches math.

Four centuries of Portuguese rule followed by a brutal 15-year civil war left Mozambicans struggling to survive. As recently as 1997, 90 percent of Mozambicans had no education at all. Mac is a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Machanga, and most of his students, particularly the girls, are the first in their families to attend secondary school.

In Mac's village, there are no after-school sports, music lessons or computer games. The students are required to sweep the school grounds, wash dishes, plant and maintain a school vegetable garden, clean bathrooms, wash clothes, and, hardest of all, collect firewood. This last duty involves a three-hour hike into the woods on Saturdays. No firewood means no cooking, which means no eating. Meals consist of only a flour and water mixture with beans. Every meal. Every day.

Life is hard by our standards. There is no running water in Machanga; all water must be pulled from a well and boiled. In the homes and at school, showers consist of water poured from a bucket, and latrines are nothing but a hole in the floor. Electricity came to Machanga in the past few years.

Most homes -- mud huts -- have no electricity; the school is fortunate to have a pair of light bulbs in two classrooms, but the other classrooms have none. Darkness is a problem at the end of the school day, particularly in the winter. The dorm rooms, which bed down a large number of students, have intermittent electricity and a supply of wire-framed bunks, but there are few mattresses. That leaves many of the students to sleep on the floor on grass mats or wadded mosquito netting.

Yet these children are the lucky ones. Many families cannot afford the $3 annual tuition at school, or they live too far away to make the trek to school each day. Boarding at the school would be the only alternative, but the extra cost puts education further out of the reach of many children.

Mac has concentrated much of his efforts in the past two years toward improving the lives of Mozambicans in his area.

He initiated a project to install a water pump to irrigate a large tract of land; it will offset frequent periods of drought.

He started a local branch of REDES, a national women's empowerment group.

Mac volunteers in a nearby medical clinic, where one doctor serves 45,000 people.

He headed up the regional school science fair.

Mac adores the children.

He hopes to raise funds for improvements, such as mattresses and lighting, and for scholarships. He is on the mark when he says that we shouldn't sit back and say, "That's just the way it is over in Africa." These children deserve more. They deserve a chance.

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