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Pomona College

Publication Date

Spring 2008

Program Name

Brazil: Culture, Development, & Social Justice


In her article entitled “Inequity and Human Rights of African Descendants in Brazil,” Lucila Beato insists that Afro-Brazilian rights are violated everyday. Those who experience this violation the most are Afro-Brazilian, or Black, women who are considered to be at the bottom of the social hierarchy. These women are a double minority who are condemned for being both Black and women. Many women, as do men, drop out of school early in life in order to help their families, who live below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meat. Many girls turn to prostitution, pornography, and even sexual tourism in order to make money, completely disregarding their education. Some may never know the value of an education. Beato mentions that 45% of the population in Brazil is of African descent. Despite the fact that this is about half of the population, however, Afro-Brazilians are still regarded as inferior to White Brazilians. They have higher infant mortality rates and lower years of schooling. Only 3.2% of Brazilians of African descents attend a university, while the number is close to 14.3% for White Brazilians. Because Black Brazilians achieve less years of schooling they have higher unemployment rates. For those who do work, many experience discrimination in the workplace due to their race. Few Blacks hold high positions of employment, such as management and planning. In the Northeast alone, White Brazilians earn about 60% more than Black Brazilians, compared to only 8% in the South. There are clear regional and racial differences between the Brazilian population that causes many inequalities both in education and employment.

It is because of these inequalities that programs like Bahia Street must exist. Bahia Street is a non-governmental organization in Salvador, Bahia that gives supplemental schooling to Afro-Brazilian girls between grades two and eight. It is funded by donations, grants, and money raised at events held in the United States by Margaret Wilson, one of the co-founders of Bahia Street. The program was started in 1997 by Wilson, an anthropologist that was working in Salvador at the time, and Rita Conceição, also an anthropologist and a professional photographer from Salvador. Both women decided to start an educational program focused on Afro-Brazilian girls because they believe that their education is one of the most pressing needs in today’s communities. They are also the population that is in need of the most reparations. Wilson and Conceição started out with only one student whom they worked with in a room that was loaned to them by the local Teacher’s Federation. In the beginning, the girls that were recruited for the program were children of friends of the founders. As the number of students grew, they rented a building for the girls in the center of Salvador. To try to increase the number of students even further, the program reached out to local public schools, asking for girls who were in need of extra educational help, but the schools did not respond very well to this. As a result, the program decided to stop working with them. By that time, however, the program was becoming popular through word of mouth. They no loner needed to recruit girls because they were coming to the program on their own. In 2003, Bahia Street bought a building that has now been its home for five years.

The goal of Bahia Street is to break the cycle of poverty and violence that exists among the Black population through education and citizenship. It works with Afro-Brazilian girls in hopes of teaching them self-esteem, self-worth, and the value of an education with a new teaching style that was developed by some of the Bahia Street teachers. These girls are taught to relate the things that they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives. They are taught about Afro-Brazilian history in hopes that this will make them more aware of the discrimination and prejudice that exists against them. The program aims to produce activists with these realizations that will later go on to fight for their rights in their schools and lives. It offers the girls a better quality education so that they will be able to attend good quality high schools, and later universities. This will help them obtain higher paying jobs and gradually end the cycle of poverty.

Currently the program works with 57 young girls between the ages of seven and sixteen. Most of the girls live in at-risk neighborhoods where drugs and weapons are easily accessible. The girls who participate in this program go to school during the morning for about four hours and come to the program in the afternoons. They are provided with transportation, uniforms, books, and school materials by the program. They usually arrive at about 11:30 am to take showers and get ready for lunch, which is served at 12:30 pm. They are provided with one hot meal, which is, for some, the only hot meal they eat all day, and a snack during their break. Classes begin at 1:30 pm. The girls have two classes, a break, and then two more classes until 5:00 pm. They attend different classes every day. The classes offered to them are mathematics, English, Portuguese, science, capoeira, art, computers, and dance. They also have periods where they are allowed to work on and ask questions about the work that they received that day at their schools.

There are four groups of girls, all of which have their own classrooms. The girls stay with their groups all day for classes. Group one contains girls between the ages of seven and eight. Group two works with girls between the ages of nine and twelve. Group three involves girls between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Lastly, group four has girls between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. In order to participate in the program, girls must come from low-income backgrounds, be enrolled in a local public school, and have a

physical before starting the program.

Today, Bahia Street has many things to be proud of. On their list of accomplishments is the fact that for the last three years, the majority of the girls who have taken their final exams have passed them with scores of 80% of higher. In addition, three of the programs original students received full scholarships to attend universities in Brazil. One of the former students that studies at the Federal University of Salvador returned to teach Portuguese at Bahia Street a few years ago. Though she is no longer at the program, she served as an inspiration for the girls who she taught, as she came from the same situation that all of these girls are currently in. She is the perfect of example of the type of woman that Bahia Street is aiming to produce.


Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Latin American Studies | Race and Ethnicity


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