Job Openings: Brazil’s Favelas Need Teachers

     Job Openings: 
Brazil's Favelas Need Teachers

    By teaching English in favelas
    and other poverty stricken communities,
    in the state of Alagoas, Brazil, teacher Ângelo Farias da Silva and
    his volunteers do help those in poorer communities to raise their
    self-esteem. This work gives them the chance to realise their potential,
    and escape a life of poverty by providing light at the end of the tunnel.

    by: Gal


    "The needy areas do not want
    charity, they want opportunity." This sound-bite typifies the ideals
    of the teacher Antônio Ângelo Farias da Silva and reveals the
    philosophy behind the project Teaching English in Needy Communities. Started
    at the end of 1999, the project is sponsored by the Casa de Cultura Britânica
    (The House of British Culture), a department within the Federal University
    in the State of Alagoas, and works with three communities in the city of Maceió,
    the capital of Alagoas: Grota de Arroz (The Rice Grotto), and two communities
    in the Reginaldo Valley. The project is also helping the fishing community
    in the Pontal (an area just outside of Maceió).

    It is clear that Ângelo’s
    own life experiences partly inspired him to work on this project. As a boy
    he quickly learned the unpleasant reality of elitism: born to a poor family,
    his mother was a seamstress and sold her clothes door-to-door for a pittance,
    and he was brought up in the sugar-cane factory run by his grandfather. With
    such a childhood, he knows all too well that citizenship is very far from
    being a natural right and for him, it feels more like a prize won in spite
    of great hardship. Many others who aspire to the same quality of life are
    not so lucky.

    At the beginning of the 1990’s,
    he went to Europe as a boy with little more than 100 Swiss Francs in his pocket
    (the minimum Brazilian salary at the time) and his return flight was divided
    into eighteen instalments for payment so that he could afford it. Having moved
    from Switzerland to England, he worked as a dish washer in a pizzeria in London,
    a busboy, and waiter in banqueting. Gradually scrimping and saving he was
    able to take courses in English and tourism. Three years later he returned
    to Brazil and became an English teacher at the Casa de Cultura Britânica
    (a department within the Federal University of Alagoas).

    Ângelo decided soon to give
    opportunities to others even less fortunate than himself. By teaching English
    in favelas and other poverty stricken communities Ângelo does
    far more than simply convey knowledge of the English language; as he himself
    says, by offering equality of learning, you help those in poorer communities
    raise their self-esteem, give them the chance to realise their potential,
    and escape a life of poverty and monotony by providing light at the end of
    the tunnel.

    With this conviction in mind, Ângelo
    set about selecting students. By lecturing them, holding one-on-one interviews,
    and assessing their level of literacy through tests in Portuguese he managed
    to whittle down the numbers until he had four classes of twenty. This process
    of selection was a delicate one; almost to a man, the entire community wants
    the chance to learn English, but preference is given to those whose parents
    cannot afford to educate them. It was crucial to avoid resentment, an especially
    awkward task given that the two communities in the Reginaldo Valley have been
    rivals historically.

    Sparse teaching materials and far
    from comfortable classrooms have not stopped Ângelo from achieving considerable
    success. Over the years, with occasional help from volunteers, he has taught
    around 70 students in four groups of children, teenagers and adults, combining
    his English teaching with education about the history of Northeastern Brazil
    to raise self-awareness and pride in the students’ own rich Afro-Brazilian
    roots. That four of his pupils have already gained places at University and
    many others have jobs in which they regularly speak English speaks volumes
    for his hard work. He offers his students something unique and extraordinary:
    the ability to change the course of destinies which seemed to be set permanently
    in stone.

    One Volunteer’s Testimony

    Ray Howitt is a primary teacher
    from Sydney, Australia. In January, 2003 he returned to Maceió for
    a holiday and to do some voluntary teaching anywhere he could find it. A chance
    contact led to him teaching English to a group of enthusiastic students in
    the Reginaldo community four days a week for a period of two months. Ray was
    also interested in teaching the students recorder and added a 60-minute music
    lesson each teaching day.

    What follows is Ray’s testimony
    of his teaching experience:

    In September, 2002 I went to Maceió
    by invitation to teach English in two local public schools. This was an interesting
    experience as I began to see the cultural differences and social problems
    that hinder public education in Alagoas. After seven weeks, I travelled to
    Canada to look for teaching work and received a good job offer but had to
    decline it after it was going to take 2 months to process my application.

    So I returned to beautiful Maceió
    to explore the culture more closely and to find a group of older needy students
    who would soon enter the workforce that I could teach English to. I went to
    the school I had formerly taught at and asked permission to ask students to
    join my class and perhaps utilize and unused classroom. The principal alternatively
    suggested that I teach English to her younger 7-year-old students. I left
    the school disappointed because I had purchased resources geared more for
    older students.

    Whilst visiting the local university
    a few days later a chance conversation led to a phone number being given which
    led to me meeting Ângelo da Silva. Ângelo enthusiastically explained
    his favela project where he had tried to assist disadvantaged students
    to attain higher levels of English and increase their opportunities for advanced

    I agreed to take over an established
    group of his in the Reginaldo community. There were about 18 students to commence
    with and this grew to 21. I taught the group recorder (1 hour a day) and English
    90 minutes a day) for 8 weeks. I had never taught English as a 2nd
    language before, but used basic English teaching methods with an emphasis
    on conversational English and reading English text.

    I was totally surprised at the
    enthusiasm displayed by these students. A favela can be a difficult
    place for students to live in when they want to achieve in life because of
    the surrounding influences, the reputation of favelas which haunt these
    students constantly and the reluctance for outsides to enter these communities
    to offer assistance.

    Brazilians have a strong reputation
    for always being late for meetings but rarely were these students late for
    class. On the contrary, almost the entire group was ready to start long before
    I arrived. The sight of these young people sitting quietly waiting for me
    each day was amazing and inspirational.

    The ages of the students ranged
    from 12 to 34. Most were teenagers just keen to learn English and aim for
    university. Many wanted to be doctors or teachers. Apart from some excessive
    chatter at times I never had a moment of misbehaviour and found them to be
    modest, increasingly confident, happy, possessing great personalities and
    always appreciative.

    I would occasionally award them
    prizes from a hat and bring along sucos com leite (local frozen fruit
    juices blended with milk). We had lots of fun and lots of intensive learning.
    I was very encouraged to hear their improved English and see some amazing
    results with reading comprehension. I am confident that many of these students
    will continue to progress and go onto advanced education and find themselves
    with good jobs in the future.

    I knew that Brazilian children
    were exposed to a great deal of music and dance and thought that whatever
    group I ended-up with in Brazil I would teach the recorder. Brazilians all
    have a good sense of rhythm and I planned to use that natural ability in the
    recorder lessons. The previous year at my school in Sydney I had successfully
    used a new method to teach recorder _ an instrument which is small, portable,
    inexpensive and easy to learn.

    The method involved using original
    pop songs and the instrumental version of the same song, adjusted to the correct
    pitch for easy fingering on a recorder, all burnt to a CD. Every student was
    given this CD to use at home for practise. The first lessons involved a similar
    CD with easy songs to master the fingering. Students were also issued with
    that CD. So there was lots of teaching, lots of practise at home, and the
    songs selected, though classic ones from previous decades, were loved by the

    The songs on the CD’s were: "I
    Can See Clearly Now" sung by Jimmy Clift; the theme from Titanic ("My
    Heart Will Go On"), sung by Celine Dion; "Annie’s Song" sung
    by John Denver, "El Condor Pasa" sung by Simon and Garfunkel, `What
    a Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong, the theme from the film Dances
    With Wolves and "Love Is in the Air" sung by John Paul Young.

    There were other songs which they
    loved singing in English classes (such as "California Dreaming"
    by the Mamas and Pappas, "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie
    Wonder and "San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie) but the songs above
    were the ones they chose to play with the recorder. They progressed rapidly
    and performed all of these songs perfectly at my farewell party. Teaching
    them a musical instrument increased their confidence and gave them a sense
    of comradeship when they performed together.

    Favelas are traditionally
    thought of as being unsafe places for outsiders. Whilst I entered and left
    Reginaldo each day with the favela chief, his son or some other approved
    and respected person, I never felt threatened or in danger. Word quickly spreads
    that the new person there is volunteering their services to help the community
    and they are `untouchable’.

    It pays to be friendly to all there
    as they are responsive and always acknowledge your greetings. "Bom
    dia" to the women and "O-pá" to the younger
    males is fine and sticking the thumb up from a distance always gets an identical
    gesture of approval and greeting. Favelas are places where people have
    had to survive and the levels of hygiene and cleanliness may surprise you
    at first. But these people are litterers at worst but not filthy. Most are
    just normal people who get on with life. The authorities have accepted the
    existence of favelas and supply them with electricity and some other
    basic services.

    So the disappointment of not being
    able to work in Canada was quickly lost in the joy of working with these great
    kids in Maceió. I made some wonderful friendship that I hope will last
    forever. I was able to travel around in my spare time and see many beautiful
    beaches, lagoons and other locations in Alagoas. In addition, I was able to
    teach each day knowing that what I was doing was greatly appreciated and would
    benefit these students enormously.

    I also felt that I was the luckiest
    guy in the world to have experienced something so special, so different and
    so unexpected. Whilst the wealthy tourists at Ponta Verde (the classy beachfront
    suburb of Maceió) thought they were having a great time staying in
    their beautiful beachfront hotels then dining in expensive restaurants at
    night, I in fact, was the one who was having the best time of all because
    I had given hope and inspiration to so many beautiful students.

    Each day I was on a high about
    these kids. They are valuable, teachable and gentle. I received no salary,
    but the student’s smiles were my salary, their determined efforts to learn
    were my wages, and their hope and trust were my income. What a privilege to
    work with them!

    Making friends with Brazilians
    is easy and they have this incredible spirit and energy which is found no-where
    else in the world. They are the worst and most dangerous drivers in the world,
    but when they get out of their cars and sit down and have a meal with you
    they are great company. For westerners Brazil is very inexpensive and teaching
    without an income was fine as accommodation, food and transport is cheap.

    I want to come back to Maceió
    to renew acquaintances, check on the progress of my students and to experience
    the energy that this place gives off. I hope that other teachers from around
    the world can take some time out to go to Maceió and have a similar
    experience to mine.

    Dominic Elliott’s Testimony

    It was pure, unadulterated good
    fortune that gave me the chance to work on this project. One night, in a bar
    in Maceió, I met a fellow Englishman, Peter Beresford, who had been
    teaching English to groups within the favelas. Wanting to do some voluntary
    work in Brazil, a country with some of the most complicated and pressing social
    issues in the developing world, I expressed my enthusiasm. He put me in touch
    with Ângelo, the English teacher in charge of the project, I liked him
    and greatly respected his ideas and energy. Soon after this first meeting
    I started teaching.

    It was an incredible experience.
    Never having taught English before, I was understandably a little nervous
    at first. But those I taught were so eager to learn that it felt as if they
    were willing me to teach them! Such attentive pupils had been a rarity in
    my twenty-three years of schooling; even I had been known to misbehave on
    occasion! Yet these people wanted to take full advantage of this free education
    as none of them were able to afford the expense of English lessons. They were
    receptive, intelligent and also good fun.

    I taught two groups, one group
    of adults and one group of teenagers in two different favelas in Maceió.
    The adult group was usually around ten in number though those who came sometimes
    varied as the constraints of their hard-working lives did not always allow
    them time. This group had already been learning English for four years and
    it was possible to talk freely with them about complex global issues and about
    how to manage their communities and possibly start up some kind of favela
    tourism like there is in Rio de Janeiro.

    Almost all of these students had
    jobs and worked for at least ten hours a day for little more than the minimum
    wage (at the time of writing this was R$ 240 a month, about US$ 80). This
    did not stop the majority turning up for every lesson though these were at
    night after a long days work. Their dedication to learning English showed
    me the importance of helping this project and illustrated how worthwhile those
    within the communities considered it to be.

    With more time at their disposal,
    the teenagers had two hour classes with me every day of the week from 9 in
    the morning to 11. The last half hour of these classes was usually recreational:
    we would learn English songs, play word association games, or sometimes even
    football outside together. Their progress was astounding. They had learnt
    English for one year before I started teaching them but had not had classes

    In the five weeks that I taught
    them, I saw them grow in confidence and ability and feel sure that in the
    future they will be speaking excellent English. In my last two weeks I started
    doing dictation with them every lesson; initially very few students managed
    to get more than two-thirds of the dictation right; some did not even try.

    But at the end of the week as I
    wrote up the post-mortem on the board there would be a steady chorus of voices
    telling me what to write next. This really touched me for these are intelligent
    children and teenagers, often living in squalid conditions with their families
    earning a pittance, but their zest for life and desire to learn makes them
    extremely friendly company.

    In addition to my teaching experiences
    I also worked with Ângelo on developing his website and the other projects
    underway within the communities. It was an experience that I learned much
    from and I felt deeply involved with the project. I will continue to try and
    help from England and hope to return to Brazil within one year.

    If you would like to contact me
    about my experience or have any questions at all about the project please
    do not hesitate to get in touch. My email address is:

    Elliott’s Night in the

    All the arrangements were in place.
    I was to be the first foreigner ever to stay in the Reginaldo Valley. By this
    time I felt as if a large majority of those living in the favela knew
    me by sight as I had been visiting to teach every day for a month; so I felt
    excited and honoured rather than scared. Though favelas can be dangerous
    places if you enter them alone, I was always accompanied by a well-respected
    community member and the night I spent there was in the house of the community

    I was treated to a large and delicious
    supper on arrival that consisted of typical northeastern Brazilian dishes:
    cuscus, inhame, meat, macaxeira and cake washed down with some
    extremely good passion-fruit juice. Feeling thoroughly satisfied if not slightly
    immobile, I then talked with the five men with whom I had eaten supper.

    They talked with me late into the
    night, telling me all about the history of the community, where people had
    come from, its origins and, as the night drew on, witty and also tragic anecdotes
    about people living in the Reginaldo Valley. These stories brought the favela
    to life but concentrating on fast, free-flowing Portuguese for hours also
    had worn me out and at one o’clock in the morning, lying down on a mattress
    on the floor, I fell to sleep the moment my head touched the pillow.

    The sharp, shrill call of a cockerel
    woke me from a deep sleep around six o’clock the next morning, reminding me
    of the rural life that many in the favela lead, though it is a community
    wedged in the heart of the hustle and bustle of a city. That morning, before
    my lesson started at nine, we went on a long walk through the favela
    to work off the effects of another large meal!

    It was fascinating to see the different
    areas and standard of living in the favela. It too, in a microcosm
    of society in general, has social classes and divisions of its own. At last,
    when I arrived at the classroom to begin teaching, I felt as if I understood
    the lives of those I was teaching far better than before. As a guest, I received
    great hospitality and as a volunteer, I gained an invaluable and genuine insight
    into the lives of those I was working with. This was an experience that I
    will remember forever and that I would recommend to anyone who wants to fully
    understand the way of life in a favela.

    The Friendship Club

    The Friendship Club is a night
    where English students gather from all over Maceió to eat, watch musical
    and other cultural performances, participate in talent shows, recite poetry
    and dance, in restaurants, hotels or discos. The catch is that they can only
    speak in English! During school term time, the Friendship Club meets monthly;
    the only prerequisite is that the students have studied English for at least
    one year.

    A Friendship Club "survival
    kit" is provided to those who are shy (a list of ice-breaking questions
    in English, naturally!).The main aim of the night is for people to communicate
    and interact with each other as much as possible without inhibition or fear
    of making mistakes so that the more advanced and confident can help those
    who speak English less well. At first there were only about twenty students
    at the event. Now the numbers have increased to somewhere between an incredible
    100-170 students, depending on the size of the location.

    A key element in the Friendship
    Club’s success is the breaking down of social barriers. People from all types
    of background come together, speak English, and enjoy themselves without any
    sense of prejudice or hierarchy; those in the cultural demonstrations are
    amateur performers, and fifteen year olds mix with fifty year olds. Those
    that can afford, pay for their entrance and this money is used to fund the
    event, and to pay for the transport and food of those who do not have enough

    There is, of course, no indication
    of who has paid and who has not. This Friendship Club is something unique
    in Brazil. At no other English students’ party in the country could you find
    a group of people from such diverse social strata. The altruistic and congenial
    atmosphere at these parties makes it possible to believe that the wide gulfs
    between different social classes in Brazil can be breached through education.

    You can also volunteer to
    teach in Maceió. You will be able to get affordable accommodation
    and help with transportation and teaching resources. You will also be offered
    free tuition in learning the Brazilian-Portuguese language and will be able
    to freely participate in Capoeira sessions. Antônio Ângelo Farias
    da Silva, the creator of the Educação para Todos (Education
    for All) project, can be contacted at
    The webpage of the program is

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