Simoes Filho, Brazil. Minuska, the coordinator at Terra Mirim, perfectly sums up what the school represents for the rural communities of Simoes Filho. An oasis.
With its wide-open spaces, natural and architectural, Terra Mirim easily looks the part. The school comprises an assortment of modest but beautifully well-kept buildings scattered about lush green grounds. The main building where classes are held is wall-less along two edges; the hallway wraps around with rooms on one side and functions as a terrace on the other. Upstairs, balmy air floats through the one-room loft where students learn Capoeira and take turns enacting stories using the standing puppet showcase.
Minuska is taking us on the grand tour, and Ian, a German volunteer living at Terra Mirim for the year, is busy translating Portuguese into English for the team’s comprehension. We have just introduced ourselves to Olva Maria, the dreamer and founder of Terra Mirim, who sits in front of a little cottage where pocket-sized treats are sold. We are still standing somewhere in the expansive backyard when our suspicions are confirmed: the school’s mission is primarily an ecological one. A meter away from us, the unidentifiable fowl that roam these parts wobble past in ones and twos.
Why ecology, we want to know. Why the bee-saving and the river-maintaining, on top of the already immense challenge of educating some of Brazil’s poorest children on the outskirts of Salvadore?
Or as we more tactfully put it, during my brief interview with Minuska: how does giving students access to digital technology, for example, fit in with the school’s ecological mission?
At Terra Mirim, the ecological focus promotes not just natural living but rather holistic learning. It is not about the happiness of plants but rather harmony among plants and animals, humans and machines. Holistic learning is the key to human freedom. Digital inclusion is ultimately about social inclusion and granting everyone that freedom.
My paraphrasing does Minuska’s words little justice. Even with my limited understanding of Portuguese and only brief approximations from the translator, I sense immediately during our session how eloquently Minuksa describes the nuances of Terra Mirim’s unique educational approach, and how powerfully she sketches a portrait of daily life in Simoes Filho.
In the village, she says, young girls let men touch them for pocket money, ten réis (US $6). They do not understand what sexuality really means, nor do they grasp their own self-worth.
I ask what changes she sees in the students who finish school here. She tells me that at Terra Mirim, they experience the self-empowerment that underlies true citizenship –those students who are initially too timid to talk are eventually able to take part in the circle of sharing. They graduate with a newfound belief in themselves and what they can do for their community.
From what I can observe in a single day, part of the philosophical consistency of Terra Mirim’s emphasis on citizenship and sharing lies in its practical applications. At the school, self-sustainability is a way of life. Students help raise vegetables in a small plot in the backyard to supplement the lunches that are made here. Separate sinks are set up with hot soapy water and clear water so that they can wash their own plates right after they finish eating.
The meals are not a luxury but a necessity. The children depend on the school for their two meals a day; to go home hungry means to stay hungry. Terra Mirim’s task is great and its means too small. The government lends Terra Mirim no support –a small Italian group donated the money used to build up the physical infrastructure, and the school relies on private donations from NGOs like CDI and revenues from its own little bakery and trinkets shop to keep food on the table and electricity running.
As it is, the school is stretching money enough for 60 students to cover the 120 currently enrolled. The children come to school in shifts, only three days a week so that the school can afford to feed them all.
Today, it is time that is tight; Minuska and I are forced to wrap up our session early. Her eyes are trained on me, as per pre-interview instructions, but like Dona Anna at CEACA and Marion at ICP, Minuska is making her appeal to the camera, to whoever may be watching and listening in the future.
An oasis is a paradise by virtue of the fact that it offers in abundance what the desert around it lacks. Terra Mirim is poor, yet it gives the people of Simoes Filho the hope that they so desperately need. The clock runs out on us before I can ask Minuska if she has any last words to share, but I can’t help but feel I hear her silent response, itself a question: Who will give Terra Mirim the aid it so desperately needs to continue being that well of hope?
-Travel Journal, Entry 6