Our series of posts from Global bloggers around the world continues, with a new face this week. Harry is based in Brazil and will be sending us occasional posts from his rather unusual teaching environment.
Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progress), the Brazilian flag boasts. I always read it as sounding like a personal ad: Brazil, 188 years old, friendly, likes beaches, sunsets, order and progress, and dancing. Yet as I started my four-month teaching placement in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shantytowns) I learnt that like all personal ads, Brazil had samba-ed round the truth a little! My favela Nova Holanda is incredibly bipolar. Either an easy going, dusty, vibrant community or a stage for the less ‘easy going’ drug war.
I teach at Luta pela Paz (‘Fight for Peace’), an organisation that uses sport (boxing, wrestling, capoeira) and classes to reach kids in communities and reveal their talent and options in the future outside the favela. Luta pela Paz’s great skill is that sport gives you a more eclectic bunch of kids than an organisation offering just academic classes would have. I teach English five times a week and box about six times a week. The level of boxing, amongst the kids, is much higher than their English (mine is the revserse!). The children learn quickly and I squeeze as much into the classes as I can, even giving out homework, which is almost always done.
I soon realised that the best thing someone like myself can give is not necessarily the language, but a sense of realisation that they are no different from kids in England, that Harry from Devon finds the word breasts just as funny as Gilson from Nova Holanda, and that there is nothing stopping them from going to university or finding a good job in the centre. This understanding of their own worth is more important than all the gerunds in the world.
I currently live with them in Nova Holanda, something unusual that the kids enjoy, and a place I love. Living here gives me no idea as to how it must feel to be from here. No matter how many punches I throw, how many shots I hear, how many dances I go to – I will never understand what they go through. People like me come and go and many of the children will stay here their whole lives but the lasting effect that the academy can have here could be huge. Improved expectations for their own lives could prove to be more important than right hooks and English classes will ever be. ‘Order’ is something that the favela is far from, although through Luta pela Paz ‘Progress’ is coming slowly.