We trekked it out about an hour before arriving at the end of the city line in a town called Japeri, where we were greeted by our host for the day, an ILEP (International Leaders in Education) teacher named Patricia. She then took us to her school inside a very poor, rural community. We pulled up in front of Colégio Estadual Almirante Tamandaré (CEAT), not knowing what to expect, as it was a surrounded by a crumbling masonry wall (spilling over with beautful pink flowers), which concealed a courtyard and the school itself.
We all filed through the door and then it got wild. We were met by an endless stream of smiling staff and students who treated us like the Beatles landing at JFK in 1964. It was incredible! Brazilians by nature have a different regard for personal space than Americans, so it's not uncommon for them to hug and touch you when they meet you, which may take a little getting used to. It's immediately disarming and endearing and drives home the fact that above all, Brazilians cherish personal relationships.
Throughout our trip, I kept hearing the same words over and over again in reference to the schools and communities we would visit:"marginalized,""disenfranchised,""forgotten." I was expecting to meet students who had been beaten down by society, embittered by the hand they had been dealt, but this was not the case at all. I've never met nicer, happier, more welcoming and sincere people in all my life. I kept thinking about a Lauryn Hill song I love called, "Every Ghetto, Every City." One line that resonated with me was, "unaware of what we didn't have," which she sings in reference to her own upbringing in a poor neighborhood. I also kept wondering about my own students back in Red Bank and how they would receive a visitor from another country to our school. I can't imagine they could match the enthusiasm and hospitality of these students.
A welcome ceremony was held for us in the school gymnasium and students read a famous Brazilian poem called, "Big World" in both Portugese and English. Here is an excerpt that I feel is very fitting:
No, my heart isn´t bigger than the world.
It´s much smaller.
It doesn´t even fit my pains.
Many students asked us in surprise, "Why are you visiting us?" As if to say that no one visits them. Later, they showed us their art studio, filled with beautiful student-made pieces. Art is not offered during the school day, but is made available after school and is instructed voluntarily by a woman named Peter. They also gave us an incredible impromptu concert in the school's small courtyard - one student played guitar, while the others sang along to their favorite songs. Music is not offered during the school day, either. This seems to be the case in many of the public schools we visited.
We were also given time to meet privately with the school's principal. She was happy to share information about her school and was clearly proud of all the hard work she and her staff put in to it. She was especially proud of the high scores they acheive on state-issued standardized tests. Apparently, they have to deal with them just like we do in the states.
Overall, it was one of the best days I spent in Brazil and I look forward to maintaining a relationship with Patricia and her school.
Public school in Japeri, Brazil (on the outskirts of Rio).
The warm and welcoming students of Japeri along with their gracious teacher, Patricia. She refuses to Samba in front of them (see the video), but made me do it. Her reasoning was that she would have to stay and face their teasing, while I get to leave. While my dancing was not immortalized (thankfully) in the video below, you can see the Samba demonstration I was given by one of Patricia's students, Marcos:
Patricia's principal welcomes us to CEAT.
My many new friends!
Rock 'n Roll Diplomacy Part I: One student had a guitar and played very well. He entertained us while his classmates sang along to Brazilian "gospel" favorites. I asked to play, and mimicked the chords he was playing, which delighted the kids. Then, in the spirit of the Beatles, I played "Saw Her Standing There." Not many of them knew it, but they seemed to like it anyway. Music is a truly universal language.
My new friend, Grasiele. She painted this picture in her after school art class. It took her two months to make and she gave it to me as a gift. I keep saying that the best thing about Brazil is its people, and Grasiele is proof.
More new friends.
David shows off beautiful artwork that was given to him as a gift.