If you are reasonably comfortable in Brazil you go to private school, if not you go to the state schools, which by all accounts are a lost cause - or you will be if you go to one.
Around town you can spot the private school kids - all white in freshly pressed coloured t-shirt and shorts, in an orderly line in a park, museum or cultural centre. The rest are hanging out, playing football in the street or at least not so visible.
The school in Heliopolis is the culmination of the self helping, self organising spirit that pervades the shanty town. The head is relaxed and casual but a man on a mission. In 1999 a 16 year old girl pupil was murdered on her way home, shot five times. He tells how, on his way out of the morgue, he decided that things had to change, that the school should take responsibility and take a leadership role in the community. In effect that that the moral reconstruction of the favella should start with the children and they in turn would lead Heliopolis in a new direction.
The first statement back then was to hold a Peace March through the streets, to lay down their intent. This now happens every year, but it is in the day to teaching that the work is really done.
We are taken on a tour of the school which now has an attached cultural and science centre - a communal place for the development of the mechanical arts - science, art, theatre and so on. In the main classroom there are over 100 children, a giant of a class. But they are seated in clusters of six each around a table and serviced by about 4 or so teachers. The tables break off into smaller rooms to work on a project and then come back to the main class to feed back and teach the others what they have learned. In this Q & A the children are sharp and witty, but also quiet and all well behaved. It is impressive to see a school working well, not just as a place of education, but also as a social model.
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