Brazilian Holidays: Notes Of A Czech Student

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Brazil is a country of contrasts with a rapidly growing economy and a bright future, although under a cloud of unsolved problems. Although living standards in Brazil have indeed improved in recent years, poor education remains a major obstacle.

Raushan Zhubanova is studying journalism at Anglo-Saxon University in Prague. She fell in love with Brazil the first time she visited it. The diversity of cultures and peoples that live there really caught her imagination. This summer Raushan got an opportunity to visit Brazil again and to size up the situation in secondary education in one of the most criminalized and impoverished districts of Rio de Janeiro. Hereafter you can read Raushan’s notes about her stay in Brazilian favelas.

When it comes to proper schooling, it seems that the entire country suffers from a lack of quality schools that are available to all, not just the children of well-to-do families. While in Europe both primary and secondary public schools are widely popular and considered high quality, in Brazil only those who lack the money to pay for private schools attend public ones. Therefore, most young Brazilians study at public schools and are limited by the schools’ poor quality, which stifles student productivity. This affects the entire economy of the country and hurts economic growth and competitiveness.

Favela residents struggle every day to make ends meet, while also dealing with extremely high crime rates in their neighborhoods. 

Nowadays, Brazil ranks 53rd out of 65 countries in reading, math and science in the PISA exam. The situation is even worse in local slums, or “favelas”, where notorious drug trafficking is joined by an almost complete lack of infrastructure and public investment. Historically, favelas have always been places controlled by drug lords, and even the police were afraid to enter them. Today, many of the favelas are pacified, especially in the big cities like Rio de Janeiro, although problems still remain. Favela residents struggle every day to make ends meet, while also dealing with extremely high crime rates in their neighborhoods. Most of the time, favela residents are considered outsiders by the rest of the population, and it is likely that favela children will become involved in criminal activities when they grow up.

Before I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro – or a “Marvelous City”, as the locals call it – to volunteer at an educational center in a favela, people often asked me why I wasn’t afraid to do that. To me, a more important question was how I could help to change at least one little thing in the cluster of problems that is Brazilian public education. Ever since I first visited this diverse and beautifully unique country, I could never forget its energy and the amazing friendliness of its people. It is sad that various social and economic problems contrast with this side of Brazil.

On my first day of volunteering I experienced a profound culture shock when entering the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela from the wealthy streets of Copacabana.

After completely falling in love with the country and its culture, I started looking into volunteering possibilities. I finally decided to volunteer at Solar Meninos de Luz, an organization in Rio’s Pavao-Pavaozinho and Cantagalo favelas that takes care of local children from the age of 3 months to 18 years. The children not only receive formal education provided by hard-working teachers and volunteers, but are also involved in activities outside the classroom.

According to the founders of the organization, the mission of Solar Meninos de Luz is to “transform the lives of children and adolescents living in socially vulnerable situations in the Cantagalo and Pavao-Pavaozinho underprivileged community, through preventive actions that offer them a full-time universalist education and humanitarian values, thus promoting good citizenship.” This is done by actively involving the children in activities such as acting, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing and sports, which gives them something to do and promotes self-confidence. In addition, the organization provides medical and psychological care to the children and their families.

On my first day of volunteering I experienced a profound culture shock when entering the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela from the wealthy streets of Copacabana. In Brazil, the rich and the poor literally live next door. I walked down the busiest and richest street of Rio de Janeiro and then, taking one turn to the right, found myself in a completely different world, a world where people slept on the street or stood around trying to sell fruit. I walked further into the favela and almost stepped on a dead rat in a pile of trash. The sight, the smell and the noises were so unfamiliar and even frightening that I asked myself if I really needed all of this, but I continued on and soon found the bright green building that was Solar Meninos de Luz.

“Sometimes they cry when they want more. It happens that we don’t have enough for them and at home they have no food either. 

When I walked in, at first glance it looked like a regular school and kindergarten anywhere in Europe. The little children ran to me to give hugs and wanted to sit on my lap. They looked healthy and happy like all children should. I spent time playing with them and quickly realized they were doing more to lift my spirits and make my life meaningful than I was doing for them. It is only when we started feeding them that I realized that something was very different from normal. One of the little boys started crying after he finished his portion. “Sometimes they cry when they want more,” Cintia, an elderly volunteer told me with evident pain in her eyes. “It happens that we don’t have enough for them and at home they have no food either.” Suddenly, the reality of life in a favela hit me. I might spend only one month here, but these children will grow up in this place and will call it home. If it wasn’t for the hard-working people who volunteer daily at the school, these little angels would have ended up on the street – hungry and with nothing to do.

“I volunteered with them for a month and was sad to be leaving the children. “

Getting involved in Solar Meninos de Luz seemed to be a good way to invest my free time into something that actually makes a difference. I volunteered with them for a month and was sad to be leaving the children, though at the same time knowing they are in the good hands of very caring people. Many of those children will finish their studies at this school, and will continue to universities to then help transform this beautiful country for the better. Or at least I would like to believe so.

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