Published: July 20th 2011July 20th 2011
Oppression of the Masses
There has been torrential rain and the roads of ´Bairro da Paz´
are inaccessible. 70,000 inhabitants live in this ´district´, one of Salvador´s biggest. All are thrown into disarray. Children cannot get to school, their parents are forced to miss a day of work, jeopardising their child’s education and their employers´ trust. Everything is a struggle; the roads within the area are just formed of mud and thus prone to becoming little more than swamps flanked by houses during the rainy season.
Little more than a kilometre away a bridge has fallen on the road ´Paulo Jackson´. This makes the journey for patrons of both the AABB sports club and the Spiritualist centre roughly ten minutes longer by car. The two receive approximately 500 members of the public per week who now have to take another road which runs on the outskirts of a nearby slum.
Which problem is the most urgent? Well according to Salvador´s Prefect, the bridge. Reconstruction work started as soon as it fell whilst the citizens of Bairro da Paz are still obliged to trudge up and down their unpaved roads.
Now if we think about this in terms of the greater good, this doesn’t make sense. The lives of comparatively few very slightly improved and the wellbeing of the majority ignored. Why?
Well the answer is easy. Bairro da Paz (which ironically means District of Peace) is considered to be a favela. Its residents are mostly black, poorly educated and do not hold positions of power within the society. Thus they have no voice. The patrons of AABB and the spiritualists are all white collar professionals and well-off. It only takes a dozen of them to shout to be heard whilst the semi-literate favela dwellers can scream in their thousands to no avail. Their cries will be forever muffled.
Denying people a voice is the cruelest form of oppression as their lives are deemed insignificant. A murdered freedom fighter is a martyr. A serial killer is infamous. A drug trafficker is feared. A man simply surviving in subhuman conditions is…
Not my problem? Maybe not, but it should be somebody’s problem that a child born to a humble family already has their future mapped out. They will attend a school where no-one with any means or sense would send their children. There, they will have their education disrupted by problem children such as the following:
Last November I was an assistant in a class of 8-year olds. I quickly became accustomed to seeing the kids dash out of the class as soon as the problem child, Paulo, entered into one of his rages. I was once declared a hero when I caught a chair he had hurled at his pregnant teacher. He was mental.
It turns out that Paulo’s mother had bravely turned over a highly feared drug trafficker in their neighborhood (Bairro da Paz) to the authorities. She probably saved many lives in doing this but as retribution her oldest son, the brother of Paulo, was found in a river without his head.
Obviously an unfortunate story but what is to be done about the children in the boy’s class who are all but guaranteed not to have a productive lesson while he is in the room?
From this unstable educational environment, the pupils will go on to secondary school where class sizes are far bigger and thus exposed to more Paulos with similar tragic stories behind them. There is some relatively good news however. From last year onwards, one child a year in our centre obtains a scholarship to go a top private school. It is a scheme called Aluno Nota Dez
(Grade 10 pupil) and awarded to the best student.
The first of these is Cauã Lima Ferreira, currently in his 6th month at his new private school. He got the highest marks (10) in every subject at our school. At his current one he averages 3,5. There we have an idea of the difference in standards between the educational authorities. But can the parents complain about the quality of education their children receive? Of course not, they have no voice.
This discrepancy goes further to explain why higher education is simply not an option for these children. The vast majority of universities in Brazil are private but every state has a federal university which does not charge for tuition. However, this university is the hardest to get into (think Oxbridge) and only the best private schools can hope to educate their students sufficiently well to earn a place.
Therefore the free university is only an option for those who have enough money to send their children to the very best private schools. Oh the cruel irony! If you cannot afford a private school you certainly cannot afford a private university. A vicious circle with very little scope for change. In the words of Dizzee Rascal, ´The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting ignored´.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. I have a friend from a deprived background who effectively educated himself and had to take the test 4 times to get into the Federal uni. It took four years but he refused to submit to what the ruling classes deem his worth/capability. How many English students would make it to higher education if this was the dedication and perseverance required? I sincerely doubt I would.
In terms of drastic inequality and denying the poor a right to be heard, Brazil is undoubtedly not unique. I’m sure you can think of countless other places where you there exists such a contrast and divide between class groups but I have never been so exposed to it. Nor its consequences on a society whose class and race divides are extremely distinct.
I recently defied all warnings and arranged to spend a day in the Bairro da Paz. I am not sure what compelled me to do so; I think it occurred to me that I am coming to the end of my time in Brazil and running out of unnecessary risks to take. That and I wanted to experience first-hand the conditions in which my pupils and the voiceless classes in Salvador live. I didn’t tell any members of my Brazilian family that I was planning on this as it would only shock and worry them, Brazilians have a thing about traversing the hallowed class boundaries. My friend had assured me that I would be with him and his family and therefore come to no harm.
It was an interesting day and thankfully I didn't once feel threatened. It was a very simple but not altogether unhappy place. The bars were shacks that didn’t have names and the houses were shacks that sometimes doubled up as bars. Having said that, many were surprisingly well furnished with big TVs and fast internet. Don’t judge a book by its lack of amenities. Going to the bar is like a family day out. Mothers chill with beer in one hand, newborn in the other while their other numerous daughters learn to gyrate provocatively almost as soon as they can stand.
My own mum warned me before coming to Brazil to stay away from temptress favela girls. By her reckoning they would trick me into throwing away my future to live a life of passionate poverty. Romantic notion, she apparently doesn’t know me as well as she thinks she does.
As it happens, she needn´t have worried. 90% of the women are obese and the rest have serious dental issues. Very few make it to their twenties without giving birth and none live a life that I would want to exchange with mine. No matter how good the sex was.