The problems of survival for the Brazilian poor in large urban centers assumed enormousproportions in the 1980s. The desperate conditions of deprived children and youth in Brazil, a country of great disparities, dualities, and inequalities in terms of human development, is exemplified by the city of Rio de Janeiro. Between 1970 and 1991, the population of Rio de Janeiro grew by 67 percent, from 3,281,908 to 5,980,768 inhabitants. This led to major social and economic problems. Of the 1,625,360 households in Rio de Janeiro, 239,680 (12.4 percent) were situated in shantytowns (favelas), housing 962,790 people. In addition, there are 177,675 (18.8 percent) living in housing projects consisting of modest houses or small apartments built to house people who had been evicted from shantytowns (Empress Municipal de Informática e Planejamento [IPLAN-RIO] 1992/93).
Although Rio de Janeiro is no different from other Brazilian urban centers, it is seen by many as the nation’s capital of violence and abandoned children. It is not surprising, then, that in 1992, 619 institutions and nongovernmental projects devoted to assisting poor children and youth were located there (Valladares and Impelizieri 1991). Those projects and institutions included day care centers and schools, social assistance, human rights advocacy coordination, shelters, residential facilities, vocational training, and alternative education organizations. The latter are intended to support, guide, and educate children and youth on the basis of pedagogical approaches suited to their unique characteristics.
Projeto Semear fits into the category of alternative education organizations. 1 The project is aimed at young people at risk who live in the western zone of Rio de Janeiro in an area called Bangu. Projeto Semear offers basic education, nutritious meals, and some dental and medical care, and gives participants an opportunity to prepare for the world of work. It also houses several who are homeless. This chapter presents a case study of Projeto Semear: it describes the project’s history, sponsors, personnel, and resources; profiles the participants; describes the pedagogical theory and objectives of Semear; and, lastly, assesses the impact of the project on its young people.
This chapter is based on years of participant-observation research during which the authors employed naturalistic inquiry techniques (Guba and Lincoln 1985). It draws heavily from Queiroz’s 1997 book, O Caso Semear: A Construçãoda Identidade e a