Jatobazinho School (Brazil)
For four years now, Fundación MAPFRE has been supporting the activity of a rural school isolated within an immense wetland in Central-West Brazil. The center provides 60 minors in vulnerable communities with the possibility of attending grade school, fostering their development and covering all their basic needs.
Life is not easy in the Southern Pantanal, one of the largest floodplains on Earth, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul (Brazil). The enormity of this territory, which sprawls across the border into Bolivia, and the floods in the rainy season go to form this isolated rural area, without roads, solely accessible by boat or plane. This isolation molds the life of the communities in the Paraguay Mirim region, scattered along the banks of the Paraguay river, the so-called ribeirinhos, deprived of public services and limited to a subsistence economy. The lack of schools in the region – there is only one municipal school – excludes these communities from the educational system and places them in a vulnerable situation, especially the children and youngsters. With little education and high rates of illiteracy, child labor and early pregnancies, they are condemned to perpetuate the cycle of poverty in which they live.
Initiatives such as the Acaia Pantanal, an offshoot of the Acaia Institute, strives to ameliorate this situation by bringing education to these communities. In 2008, this NGO launched its itinerant school in the area, providing literacy classes to adults and youngsters; it later converted a pousada on the banks of the Paraguay into an educational “islet”, the Jatobazinho School, providing schooling to 39 pupils, and introduced the Brazilian educational curriculum; today it is a true benchmark of quality for its teaching, facilities and resources: five classrooms, dormitories, swimming pool, satellite communications… and five boats for crossing the river, the only way of accessing the center, 55 miles from the nearest city. A qualitative leap for this school which, until 2014, was the only entry point to the educational system in the area, achieved thanks to its own resources, donations, volunteers and a tremendous effort.
Providing comprehensive education to children who find it difficult or impossible to access education is the mission of the Jatobazinho School. “We educate those children who don’t have the chance to study,” say school officials, well aware that they are only handling a limited number of pupils and that many more remain unschooled. This mission is aligned with the philosophy of promoting education for the most vulnerable that inspires the Formando Comunidad program of Fundación MAPFRE’s Social Action Area, which is why it has been economically supporting this initiative since 2012, aid that has been renewed for 2016.
Today this school offers the first five years of elementary education to 60 children aged 6 to 12, a figure that has grown over the years as parents increasingly send them there “to offer them the chance of a different future, to change their destiny,” the school management explains. The center covers the basic food, health and accommodation needs, as well as assisting their families. The distances involved and a lack of resources prevent pupils from coming to school every day and, for this reason, it functions as a boarding school: during the course, they spend periods of 45 days in the center and another 15 with their families. Those who live within a radius of up to 30 miles spend the weekends at home and return on Monday before lunch, aboard vessels run by the school or the municipality of Corumbá.
OVER 11,000 BENEFICIARIES IN 2015
Brazil – the largest and most populous country in Latin America, which still has great social needs – is one of the main destinations for the development cooperation work of Fundación MAPFRE’s Social Action Area. Its actions in this regional colossus can be traced back to 2006 and the Formando Comunidad program is being carried out nowadays in 12 of the 26 Brazilian states, in all its five macroregions.
During 2015, Formando Comunidad provided economic backing to a score of projects undertaken by 22 local entities; some of them have been supported for five years now. The goal is to contribute to the development of the less fortunate, particularly through action in the fields of education and nutrition, as well as in health and access to the labor market.
Today, these projects are reaching 11,221 beneficiaries, mostly children at risk of social exclusion and their families, but also adults and people with special needs. There is great disparity in their sizes: three of the projects benefit over 1,400 people each, while three others barely reach one hundred, among them the Acaia Pantanal project.
The educational philosophy of the seven educators combines the teaching of the regular curriculum in the morning with socio-educational activities (sports, cultural, musical and artistic expression workshops, etc.) in the afternoon. Sylvia Bourroul, the project director, stresses that “These activities value the local context and, in a cross-disciplinary fashion, deal with issues related to citizenship, art, culture and the environment.” Awareness of the environment is a priority instilled by this school, which is in favor of encouraging them, from the earliest age, to preserve this unique biodiversity area, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. They also foster healthy diet and personal hygiene habits.
After five years at the center, the children are SOCIALLY INTEGRATED, have full reading and writing skills, and adequate neuro-psychomotor development
The objectives of the educational program that Fundación MAPFRE supports are similar to those of other elementary schools. During their five years here, the school promotes the pupils’ psychosocial and cognitive development – within the framework of an educational methodology that offers a vision of reality in all its complexity and richness – and guarantees the learning of the basic grade curriculum. On finishing, the children are socially integrated, have full reading and writing skills, and adequate neuro-psychomotor development, “goals we systematically fulfill”, according to the center’s management. The aim is to pass the year-end exam, which entitles them to continue their studies in other centers, something which is encouraged at Jatobazinho.
But this school looks beyond the mere academic result, considering that even failing an exam is no disgrace for pupils with mental retardation or health problems that result in them missing classes. As the officials explain “For educators, it’s not enough for them to pass the exam or enter the selection process of other schools in order to continue their studies. The main aim is the conquest of citizenship, regardless of the length of time that each may take to achieve this.” In short, it is a question of making children aware of their rights as individuals, an invaluable contribution for modeling their lives and assisting the development of these riverside communities. A goal that Fundación MAPFRE is doing its bit to achieve.
Fundación MAPFRE’s support is fundamental
What type of population does the school target?
—It targets the children of families living along the banks of the Paraguay river. Their homes are very far apart and they don’t have access to education, health and energy services. These low-income families live from fishing and collecting bait for the fishing tourism sector. The parents are generally illiterate or functionally illiterate.
In what condition do the children arrive at the school?
—They have a poor cognitive performance, as well as difficulties with everyday routines and both intimate and oral hygiene habits. Many of them are very shy and insecure, a reflection of their low self-esteem. What’s more, they face the challenge of living together: they must accept the rules of social coexistence and the collective use of spaces and resources. Healthwise, there are chronic problems such as head lice, malnutrition, and dermatitis.
What values does the center impart?
—Knowledge, ethics, citizenship, autonomy and responsibility.
Having finished grade school, what educational path do the pupils follow?
—We are concerned about them continuing into high school. Some of them go to the municipal school in the region, others move to homes of relatives to continue their studies at schools in Corumbá and Miranda. We make every effort to ensure the pupils and their parents understand the importance of them continuing their studies.
How do you feel about Fundación MAPFRE’s support?
—Its support is critical as we work with very limited in-house resources and endless demands. Being able to rely on its support for the essential needs such as food, personal hygiene and teaching materials guarantees pupils the best conditions for their socio-educational development.