Magazine article New Internationalist

Drumbeats of Hope on the Hill: Where the State Is Unable or Unwilling to Provide an Education, Parents and Communities Are Stepping in (Maria Da Conceicao School, North-East Brazil)

Magazine article New Internationalist

Drumbeats of Hope on the Hill: Where the State Is Unable or Unwilling to Provide an Education, Parents and Communities Are Stepping in (Maria Da Conceicao School, North-East Brazil)

Article excerpt

MIDDAY. Little Selma shivers briefly under the spurt of cold water which flows slowly over her copper - skinned and slight body. Not even the cloudy sky of the tropical 'winter' could prevent the washing ritual. And then comes lunch, avidly devoured by the hundred pupils in the Maria da Conceic"Symbol not transcribed"o community school. Hygiene, food and alternative education. Who would say that we are in the most populous suburb of Recife, in Brazil's poorest region?

We are in fact in the Morro da Conceic"Symbol not transcribed"o (Conception Hill), famous for its activism. And hidden behind blue gates, under the huge mango tree, is the school, a real symbol of popular resistance.

The community - schools movement in Brazil is at its most active in Recife. These schools are formed by parents whose children are unable to get a place at state schools. There are more children than places at the state schools and entrance after the first grade is by examination so it becomes harder and harder for a child to get in. Many children, particularly if they are poor and black, are never given that chance.

Dark and skinny, at 14 Eronildo was once such a child. He could not read or write, and kept failing to get accepted by the state school. Now, in the community school -- where 'you don't have to keep your mouth shut, because everyone is a friend' -- he has all that behind him and is studying in the equivalent of secondary school first year. He has learnt African dances and has already played in the small percussion group.

As his parents are unable to pay for a private school, where would Eronildo be were it not for the community schools? And where would Mo@nica, Anderson and Jarlene be, living with mothers who earn less than 60 dollars a month as a cleaner, waitress or seamstress?

The answer lies in the streets of Recife, in the police pages of the papers, and in Amnesty International's reports. Over ten million Brazilian children live on the streets, exposed to the violence of the traffic, the police and the death squads.

With its slopes which are unsafe in the rainy season, and its slums bursting with unemployed workers, the hill community of Morro da Conceic"Symbol not transcribed"o is a fairly typical example of the urban landscape in Brazil. What makes it different is the way its inhabitants have mobilized so forcefully to counteract the absence or inadequacy of state schools.

Here the parents don't pay,' explains Lucia. 'When they can, they help out with a kilo of rice or beans. On the other hand, participation in the monthly meetings is obligatory. …

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