After nearly a month in Praia, the capital city of Cabo Verde located on the island of Santiago, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about Cabo Verdean people and culture from our interactions around the island. Specifically, this past week has been a whirlwind of learning new vocabulary, mastering children’s names, and exploring the environments of the different centers we’ve been engaging with. So far, we have been placed in three main centers all under the larger organization of Instituto Caboverdiano da Criançia e do Adolescente (ICCA): Centro Lem Cachorro, Centro di Emergencia Infantil, and Centro Nôs Kaza. Each of these partner sites works with young people who have experienced difficult life circumstances whether it be low income family struggles, abuse, neglect, or other challenges.
My biggest concern after our group conversation about narratives and assumptions heading into this week was primarily regarding the Krioulu/English language barrier that so obviously revealed itself from the first time we toured the facilities. I was nervous that without the ability to verbally communicate with the kids who speak exclusively in Krioulu, it would be substantially even more difficult to overcome some of the challenges related to participating in short-term service projects and working with children that we’d previously discussed as a group. Krioulu is the primary spoken language in Cabo Verde, and the vocabulary is closely tied to the islands’ historic background and modern culture. Historically, Krioulu developed as a means for enslaved people from diverse places of origin brought to the country by the Portuguese colonizers to communicate with one another. This was later mixed with Portuguese in order to create the language that prevails today.
Currently, one of the most noteworthy ways that Cape Verdeans preserve their complex history is through maintaining their unique language. Without an expansive command of the Krioulu, how would we phrase our questions and instructions in a way that was most appropriate and inclusive to select children navigating difficult personal and familial circumstances? How would we interpret the kids’ comments and restructure our own attitudes and behavior in a way better suited to their individual needs? While these concerns haven’t fully been resolved, this week showed me that the desire to bond and develop relationships on both sides can overcome many of the barriers that the language differences create. In just a few interactions, many of the students have grown more and more comfortable with us in the centers and engaging in games, broken conversations, reading, and other activities has been a daily occurrence. As we transition into Week 2 with ICCA, I’m excited to see how these relationships and challenges change when we take on a more formal, structured leadership role in the center through incorporating our own activities into the preexisting structures.