Friday, June 28, 2013

The Right to Teach

It is a cloudy Friday morning in Rocinha, which is always the best time to write a blog post.
Currently, the free internet network that gives excellent high speed wifi access is down, which means I am writing this from the internet cafe near my apartment.

I have been living in Rocinha, working as a resident volunteer for nearly two months now and I am truly, finally beginning to feel settled in. It is a major adjustment to move from a "first world", safe, clean city such as Toronto to the wild hustle and bustle that is Rocinha.

One of the things that keeps me most inspired and dedicated to stay here and make this place "home", is the teens that I teach on Monday and Wednesday evenings. I took over the teen class from former resident volunteer Sergio and at first I was very intimidated. It was literally me versus a big group of 11-14 year olds, so not only did I have to pique their attention with my lessons, but I also had to win them over... (I am still in the process... I don't know if I am really "cool" in the eyes of a 12 year old girl born and raised in Rocinha...).

The teen class consists of a varied group of kids with very different levels of English, which at times makes it hard to manage, as you have the far more advanced kids vs. the kids who don't take English in school, because their school only offers Spanish classes. This is where I have decided to fully utilize Voluntourists. I bring them into my classroom and have them sit at different tables, based on the levels of the students, in order to make sure everyone gets a bit of individual attention. This has proven to be a very successful technique and I would recommend it to anyone who is considering coming to 2Bros and teaching as a resident volunteer.

Although English is the main goal in my lessons with the kids, I basically have the liberty to teach whatever I would like, so I am trying to balance grammar with general classes about the world, culture and current events.

As everyone should now know, Brazil has erupted into a massive scene of protests and social movements in the past few weeks- this was initially sparked when bus prices inexplicably augmented by 20 cents, but has turned into something so much more.
Two weeks ago, on Monday June 17th, English class was "cancelled". Instead I sat the kids down and let them know that "today was a historical day for Brazil". The first major protest was happening in Rio and about 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of  Avenida Rio Branco, in which was mainly a peaceful protest. I showed them 2 different videos that were circulating around YouTube- one that was entirely against the protesters (A clip by Arnaldo Jabor, who I believe is now biting his tongue) and a response to Mr. Jabor by the group Anonymous.
After showing the clips, I asked the kids what they got from the videos... is it really just 20 cents that the people are protesting for, or is it more??

Luckily, this day I was joined by the wonderful Geovani Martins, a very intelligent 20 year old man who is born and raised in Rocinha and is extremely down to earth and articulate- he was invaluable in helping me lead the discussion. ( My Portuguese is strong but not perfect and it was definitely challenged that day).
At first the kids were a bit silent, one 12 year old girl dropped her head into her hands and exclaimed "gente, que profundo!" - guys! this is too deep. But they quickly got into the discussion and we talked about the fact that Education and Health Care are deeply lacking in funding and proper structure here in Brazil. I wrote the word "educacao" on the board and we discussed exactly what they think the issue with the education system here is... "Well, our teachers don't show up to class" one girl responded... Many of the kids go to schools outside of Rocinha, because the schools here in the favela are severely lacking in funding and many kids aged  12, still can't read or write proficiently.
Schools here are dirty, unorganized and generally do not foster a positive environment for learning.
After we covered issues in the education system, we discussed issues in the health care system and what exactly "Health" means... what needs to be improved? We talked about the open sewers in Rocinha, the garbage everywhere, the conditions in the hospitals.

Then we discussed what they could do to change things around...Geovani played a big part in helping to lead this part of the class and it was an extremely inspiring moment for all involved. He said that for years, Brazilian people have been too lazy to really think and question, but that this is now changing. He told the story of his mother who went to school in the 1980s and didn't have the opportunity to express herself. He told the kids that "these days, we as Brazilians are committing one of the biggest sins. We have the right to speak, but we are not seizing our right. But you guys, you are the next generation and you, more than anyone, have the power to change things here, question the system and make a better country and reality for yourselves and your kids".

It was an amazing class to be a part of and I know it has had a lasting impression on all involved. The other day there was a protest in Rocinha and my kids were really keen on telling me that they had taken part.... I couldn't have been more proud!

This Sunday, I am taking them to the Centro Cultural do Banco Do Brasil (CCBB), which is an incredible cultural center in downtown Rio. They are showing an exhibition borrowed from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, called "Elles". There will be art on display from some of the greats such as Frida Kahlo- and the whole exhibit is entirely for free!

Next Wednesday, my volontourists Kaye and Wilson from the NGO "Rocinha Mais Verde" will be doing a presentation for my class about community farming and sustainable living. The girls are currently working way up at the top of Rocinha, building a beautiful community garden. I have started working with them which means that every morning I start my day early and walk the 30 minute hike up the steep hill of Rocinha and then do hard manual labour in the sun! Next week we will start planting fruit trees and vegetables after all the digging and preparation is finished. I plan on bringing my teens in next weekend to help with the planting and hopefully also become involved in the project.

What makes this opportunity with 2Bros so wonderful and exciting is that you can really make it your own- you have the power to truly make the most of it, bond with your students, and hopefully show them some things or discuss topics that they would otherwise be unexposed to.

The adventure continues and I still have two more months here- I will post again soon! Any comments or suggestions are always appreciated and I can be reached at you can also follow me and my personal development here in Rocinha at


Erin/ Liza

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