School Book Shopping

Saturday, 7 February 2009.

Hard to believe I’ve only got just over a week left.

Mary, our visitor from Iris Ministries, left this morning. (She’s a wonderful lady. This is her first time in Brazil, but she’s been visiting the Iris base in Bethlehem – the real one, in Palestine – and plans to return there fulltime, to work with Palestinian children. It’s amazing how little fear some of these people have.)

Before leaving, Paul and Trina have a meeting to talk about strengthening our ties with both Iris and the Partners in Harvest network. Important work, but these things always seem to end up done on the run here – it’s just the way things are. Time is a precious commodity.

Afterwards, we walk down the hill into town with Rosemberg, who’s 16. We buy him lunch (hamburgers with everything at a lanchonete for R$5) and also go shopping for school exercise books. It’s the start of the school year, and though he didn’t finish school last year, he’s going to give it another attempt this year. Rosemberg’s mother has meanwhile also worked a miracle and managed to get a business to sponsor him for a term of night school computer training at a technical institute.

I am in awe of Rosemberg’s mum. We meet her on the street – her son is a head’s height taller than her.

By the way, the cost of a cheap spiral-bound exercise book and pens is just R$12. But even so, Rosemberg doesn’t have that kind of money. Paul buys three because he knows other kids will come asking for them. That comes from his personal budget. It all adds up.

(“The worst schools”, says Paul as an aside, “are the ones which require students to buy school T-shirts in order to attend. None of the kids here can afford that.”)

This is not to say that favela kids aren’t smart. Igor, one of the young teens around the hill, has a faster Internet link than Paul and is already running the Windows 7 Beta, which Paul has been struggling to download for weeks. Many of the kids have computers and MSN, Facebook and Orkut accounts.

It’s just a matter of access to education providers, most of which here are not designed with raw talent in mind, but are built for rich kids of rich parents. Who usually happen to be white. Many of the favela kids are white too, but the system here doesn’t primarily discriminate based on race – just on money.

But all the billboards and telenovelas somehow show rich happy self-absorbed people who are mostly white, compared to the average looking person on the street who is a vibrant brown. The shadows of the sugar and coffee plantations are so deep they may as well still be walls.

Tonight, we have a youth group service in the church at 7pm. I’m hoping it can be another prayer meeting like Wednesday, because those are fun. And I don’t need Portuguese to understand what’s going on.

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