I have just enjoyed this upbeat video from the children of the Living and Learning project. All thanks to Tom, UK volunteer and musician, who lives in the local favela and spends time with the children.
Of course, you don’t have to be a musician to be a volunteer! You just have to feel that you want to get involved in sharing your abilities and time with others.
Providing a helping hand and a quiet space in which to do homework is a simple but very effective way in which volunteers like Gabriel, working in the Living & Learning project in Rio, can support the youngsters.
The project provides a safe ‘after school’ place for children from the neighbouring favelas. Apart from help with homework and English the children receive a meal and the opportunity to join in with a range of sporting and cultural activities.
For children suffering from their experiences of crime and violence, there is help from Beth, the director of the project and a trained counsellor.
Escola Família Agrícola, translates to Family School of Agricultural and is a new idea for supporting families in rural communities. It also plays an important role in the VinB volunteer programme in Cristino. Once volunteers are accepted for a placement the agricultural school acts as the guarantor and prepares the visa documentation, in return volunteers such as myself teach English to the students.
The college has a non-traditional approach to timetabling and to developing a supportive relationship with student and their families. The students alternate between two weeks of residential full time education and two weeks of home study. As the school name suggests this is to sustain the bond with home and family and provides the time and space for students to apply and share the skills and knowledge back on the home farm.
Though the focus is on agriculture and animal husbandry (with some agronomy), the
students learn Portuguese, mathematics, geography and chemistry and the course concludes with an obligatory internship with an agricultural company.
The school opened in 2008 and like other agricultural schools belongs to the community and though salaries and some funding is paid by the state, the college is always short of resources and looking for partnerships. As a relatively new school it is also working to build its reputation and to increasing student numbers. It is an initiative to support and encourage youngsters to stay and farm in rural areas.
VinB’s micro loan scheme is another initiative that contributes to the sustainability of farming in the rural areas around Cristino. As co-ordinator I am excited to be involved in helping students to prepare business plans for a micro-loan.
Do you know what the Brazilians from Piauí share with the English?
Surely there are other traits to compare, but commenting on the weather is a very important part of almost all social interactions. Even if you know only a little Portuguese, you can easily start up conversation with: Calooor, calor demais! (Hot, too hot!) And the advantage is that it is applicable for all the days of the year!
And another question: Do you know what the Brazilians from northeast share with the Slovakians?
Just to explain the connection – me and Martin are Slovakians, probably the most famous Slovakians in Cristino Castro.
It is said that we, Slovakians, like to complain. (There is always something to complain about, isn’t there?). Whilst we enjoy a wide range of complaints, Brazilians keep it simple- it definitely will be something about the weather. And most probably about the hot weather!
One would think that Brazilians are accustomed to the hot weather, and that they will not pay extra attention to it. But the opposite is true. They are as affected by the heat as we are. When I ask my students why they are so tired and sleepy, they will answer: Because it’s too hot today! Usually I am tempted to respond – well, as any other day – welcome to Piaui, but I just nod in agreement. It is true that they often find it quite difficult to concentrate, as do I. But then, when I check the weather forecast for Europe, suddenly I stop complaining and feel very grateful to be right here!
One of the pleasant duties of a teacher at the Agricultural College is to visit families of our students. As the College is administered by the association of parents and friends of the school, it is very important to get to know them, to build a relationship and connection between students, families, teachers and the College. So we decided to visit few families during our Easter holidays.
It is rainy season now, so driving to the interior might be a bit of adventure and indeed, our plans were slightly changed because of the flooded roads. But finally we safely reached one of the villages.
I find it really interesting to see how my students and their families live. I think the best way how to experience the reality of their everyday life is to not to let them know in advance that you are planning to come so they are not worried what to prepare. Families often live in modest conditions, but the hospitality is admirable.
One of the important gestures of Brazilian hospitality is to offer cafezinho to visitors and guests at home. Cafezinho is a strong black coffee served in a small glass and enjoyed with LOTS of sugar. I really like to have one in the morning and maybe one more after lunch. So I definitely broke my personal record when in order to be polite and not to refuse any of them I managed to drink six cafezinhos (it took a while to fell asleep that night!).
I am looking forward another interesting trips and visits, but I really have to think about polite and believable excuse how to avoid caffeine overdose!
It is wonderful to hear that Thais, a former student of the Living and Learning Project has now returned as a teaching assistant (monitor). She was at the project when our very first volunteer Tom Ingam was in post in 2006. Having completed her formal education she is returning to the project to support other young people in their learning journeys.
Thais is to Tom’s left in the first picture and on the far right in the second.
What really surprised me was to find out that my students at the Agricultural College are motivated to learn English. Maybe you ask, what is so surprising about that? Everybody needs English nowadays! But you have to imagine a different reality. We are in the northeast rural Brazil, far away from the industrial south and the big multinational companies and where it is very rare to meet a tourist or a foreigner.
During the first lesson the students had to answer three questions – if they like English, if they find it useful for their life and finally if they want to learn and understand English. Just to help them to be as honest as possible, I didn’t ask them to write their names. I was expecting anything but the final result was a surprise. All of them (except one) want to learn English and they understand the importance of a new language, to improve better job opportunities, to travel out of Brazil (they mentioned Slovakia a couple of times; flattering and at the same time make me smile as not everybody in Slovakia speaks English). Or to marry an American woman – why not – it is said that love is the best motivation.
Indeed, I was surprised and happy about the honest answers those teenagers gave and I think this ‘revelation’ will keep me going for a long time!
It isn’t easy to write about the politics of North East Brazil, but following elections in October 2012 I just thought that it would make sense to touch this topic and explain some of the issues.
While elections in big cities in the South of Brazil (São Paulo, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, etc.) more or less follow European democratic standards, North Eastern Brazil is still influenced by heritage of so-called coronelism. Many smaller towns are controlled by influential groups of local politicians and vote buying is not uncommon.
I‘m not saying that there isn’t any progress. There are towns where you can see significant improvements in education, health care or agriculture during the last few years. This happened especially in places where people from poorer families got to power and ended the command of influential groups.
Cristino Castro and regions of the Brazilian North East are undergoing a period of severe drought. There was some rainfall in November and December, but since then there was only one rainy week at the end of January.
Droughts are not uncommon, though. The rainy period in southern Piauí normally starts in November and ends in April. However, there are some years with very little rainfall. Or even if there is rain, it might come too early, too late or there can be a big gap in the middle of rainy season. These irregularities have a greater affect on small farmers who can lose significant part of their crops.
To counter the impact of the drought the government releases loans with a prolonged time of repayment (up to 10 years) in case of emergency. These loans are related to use of water sources and enable people to build water tanks, ponds, cisterns, fences, planting pasture or other types of technical infrastructure. It is available only if the municipality declares a status of emergency.
But this still isn’t a solution for immediate food aid. The truth is that Brazil has enough food resources coming from southern part of the country. Hopefully there will be a strategy of bringing the food to the North East if needed later this year.
This entire situation repeatedly brings up the importance of sustainable development based on underground water resources. Cristino Castro has a huge potential for agricultural production, even in times of drought, but the water resources have to be used effectively and wisely.