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BRAZIL: Awakening the Dreams of Young Slum Dwellers

Mario Osava

RECIFE, Brazil, Aug 18 2005 (IPS) - Left blind in one eye by a bullet wound, 18-year-old Rosinaldo Inaldo admits that he used to be violent, but says he now dreams of becoming a singer of traditional songs from northeastern Brazil like the “axé” and “frevo”.

He attributes the change to the Art and Life Association, which he says “made me a better person, and improved my life.”

Thanks to his five years of involvement in the programme, he now enjoys going to school, where he is trying to complete his primary education, while dreaming about making money as a singer, actor or computer operator, “to help my family and to help out other people as well,” he tells IPS.

Art and Life offers art classes, sports activities, tutoring and psychological assistance to 100 poor children and adolescents in Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil, the country’s most impoverished region.

In a three-story building in the city’s historic centre, the youngsters take drumming, music, dance, art and literature classes.

For those who are nearing their 18th birthday and will soon have to leave the project, like Inaldo, there are vocational courses in computer science, crafts and other areas, made possible by agreements between Art and Life and other institutions.

The young participants were selected from three of the city’s most violent neighbourhoods: Coque, Pilar and Santo Amaro.

Besides living in poverty, they are at risk of falling into a life of crime, Gloria Dalla Nora, general coordinator of the Art and Life Association, explained to IPS.

An architect by profession, Dalla Nora belongs to the family that owns Nordeste Segurança, a large local private security firm that decided, when it turned 30 in 2000, to “create a project for the future of children and adolescents who have no future.”

It is not a contradiction for a security company to spend money on social programmes with the aim of reducing crime, says Dalla Nora. The company’s jobs include protecting wealth and transporting money – tasks that are getting “more and more difficult as the violence spirals out of control,” she explains.

Art as a tool for transformation was the method chosen by the firm, following the example of a number of Brazilian programmes in which art and sports have been successfully used to promote social inclusion and prevent juvenile delinquency among young slum dwellers.

As in other similar programmes, Art and Life requires that its participants attend school regularly. The association offers morning courses for the youngsters who go to school in the afternoon, and afternoon classes for those who attend school in the morning. It also provides tutoring.

Danuzia Pereira, 18, was until recently a participant in the programme and now works as an assistant to the teachers who provide tutoring.

The children’s academic performance improves after they join Art and Life, because the project “awakens their interest and enthusiasm for learning,” says Pereira.

Isabela Pereira, 17, discovered her talent in drawing and painting, and wants to study art at the university “as a route to becoming a seamstress.”

“I like to design and create clothing,” she says. “It runs in the family, and came from my grandmother, who liked to sew.”

She draws the designs on notebooks and objects made of recycled paper in a cooperative supported by a non-governmental organisation in her neighbourhood, Coque.

The impact of violence in her slum neighbourhood is felt in many areas, says the young woman. Besides the risk of dying an early death, the schools are often left without teachers, who quit out of fear, and young residents suffer discrimination and cannot find jobs outside of the neighbourhood because of the stigma of coming from a crime-ridden shantytown.

One common dream shared by many poor young Brazilians like 16-year-old Ricardo Santana is to become a famous football player. Others have less typical ambitions. Daniel Constantino, 13, says he wants to be “a writer or a veterinarian.”

But all dreams are encouraged and stimulated by the Art and Life activities aimed at awakening the talents and interests of the young participants.

One favourite course is drumming, says Jorge Michel, who has been giving percussion classes in the association for three years. Two days a week, the traditional rhythms of Pernambuco like the “maracatú”, “coco”, “ciranda” or “frevo” can be heard in the building – sometimes over the complaints of neighbours irritated by the noisy rehearsals.

Bands that have emerged among members of the association have performed in several shows, and take part in the city’s carnival celebration, says Michel.

But the positive results are the product of years of arduous work. Many of the youngsters suffer emotional trauma and need therapy and support in school, says Dilma de Marilac Souza, a psychologist who has worked for years with children living in poverty and juvenile delinquents.

Art is an effective instrument for change and for boosting self-esteem and fomenting creativity, says Souza, one of the leaders of the project.

But she points out that the serious problem remains of finding jobs for those who turn 18 and must leave the programme. In Pernambuco there is no “cultural policy that would help generate income,” she laments.

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