Grandmother Clara´s Dream Educational Community Creche, or Educandário Creche Comunitária Sonho Vovó Clara, is located in Mata Escura, one of the most notorious favelas on the periphery of the city of Salvador in the North-East of Brazil.
Salvador is the poorest city in Brazil and capital of Bahia, the poorest state. Statistics show that 53.5% of Salvador’s population of 2.9 million people live below the poverty line, this is compared to a national average of 31.06% (index mundi).
Crime & Unemployment
The vast favelas located around Salvador’s periphery are largely populated by recent migrants to the city. The rural population leave the drought ravaged interior of the state for the capital looking for work, however employment prospects are slim. Unemployment for the city currently stands at 27%, however this figure is much higher amongst the population of the favelas.
Crime is at endemic levels throughout the city, which is the capital of Bahia´s marijuana and cocaine trafficking industry. Gang violence in the favelas is also on the increase. The current murder rate in Salvador stands at 36.2 per 100,000 inhabitants (O Globo), compared to a national average of 25.2. Despite widespread publicity of these critical levels of violence, crime still attracts many adolescents who are drawn by the notion of an easy route to improving their financial status and feel there are few other options open to them. The number of adolescents involved in drug trafficking in the city has increased by 800% since 2006, with 223 under-16s prosecuted for drug trafficking offences in Salvador in 2010 (Correio).
To provide an anecdotal example of the lure of crime and gang culture for the city´s youth, in a discussion at our school about what the children wanted to do when they grew up, one 5 year old student told us that he wanted to be a thief, his justification being that ´a thief gets everything he wants and doesn’t have to work for it’. This same child had witnessed his own father, who was involved in the local drug trade, shot dead in front of him by the police just a month earlier.
Another major issue faced by the inhabitants of Salvador’s favelas is poor public health and sanitation. Almost 1/3 of the city does not have sewage lines or septic tanks (Salvador Info). Infant mortality stands at 24.42 per 1000 live births, the national average for Brazil is 18.91. Most recent studies show 10.72% of Salvador’s babies are born seriously underweight and 10.21% of children aged 6 and under are classified as malnourished. Tuberculosis levels are rising, currently standing at 120.99 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, vastly higher than the national level of 41.74 (Ministry of Health).
Housing in the community is poor with the large majority of families living in cramped and damp dwellings. The town is also home to the state prison of Bahia and many of the original inhabitants of the area located there to be close to relatives who were inmates. As a result the favela suffers from additional stigma which negatively affects its inhabitants and prevents the area from obtaining the same upward mobility that some favelas have experienced.
Illiteracy levels in the area are high. Levels of illiteracy for Bahia as a whole stand at 19.8%, whilst there are no official figures for favelas such as Mata Escura, levels here are undoubtedly higher than the state average (Index Mundi)..
Mata Escura has a population of just over 100,000 people. There are 2 state schools in the town, which accept children from age 7 upwards, however lessons are regularly cancelled due to a lack of teaching staff and when they are operating children attend for half-days only. With schooling so erratic many children drop out early and others never enter the education system. We must also consider the fact that by 7 years many children have developed an earning potential for their families or are simply looking after themselves for the majority of the day. As children become older motives for dropping out of education increase as their earning potential rises. A very large number of school age children in Salvador work as street vendors, selling newspapers, refreshments etc, renting deck chairs on the beaches, shining shoes in the commercial district or in other low paid roles in the service and tourist industries.
In addition to this the migratory patterns of the population, who come and go from the city looking for employment, affect children’s school attendance and ultimately result in dropouts. Teenage pregnancy is also another serious obstacle to the completion of schooling. Currently national rates for enrolment in secondary school stand at 79% and are undoubtedly less favourable in the poor state of Bahia. This shows a large drop off from the 98% of 7 year olds who enter primary education (UNESCO).
Health Problems Amongst our Children
Our students often appear extremely tired in school. We have noted signs of sleep deprivation, including poor concentration, susceptibility to illness and sleepiness and irritability in the mornings. Illness is common amongst the students, with skin parasites such as ringworm reaching endemic levels during various periods throughout the year. We have also witnessed a very high prevalence of fungal skin infections, which have caused scarring and hair loss. Many ailments go without medical attention, in particular insect bites, which in dirty living conditions and a tropical climate quickly become infected. Coughs and colds are also common, especially during the rainy season.
Our objective is to provide first-time teaching in literacy and numeracy, social sciences, natural sciences, arts and crafts and to provide support and reinforcement classes to those studying in the local state schools. English is taught to our older students and offered to all adolescents and adults in the local community.
All teaching is conducted in Portuguese, is offered free of charge and free from religious or political bias.
We also provide daily fruit, breakfast and 2 hot meals for the children, to improve their vitamin intake and reduce their susceptibility to illness. Whenever possible we provide weekend and holiday food packages to help ensure the children are fed whilst not at school.
Here at Grandmother Clara´s Dream we firmly believe in education as a basic human right and the best route to offering the children of this troubled community the opportunity of a brighter future.
· UNESCO Database: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/brazil_statistics.html
· Salvador Info, www.salvador.info
· Ministry of Health, www.saude.ba.com.br
· Globo.com,http://oglobo.globo.com/pais/mat/2008/01/29/o_ranking_das_capitais_ brasileiras_com_maior_taxa_de_homicidios_por_100_mil_habitantes-339346604.asp
· Index Mundi, http://www.indexmundi.com/
· Correio newspaper