Today is Guri day and I’m to visit two programmes: Polo Osesca in the West and Polo Casa Blanca in the South (polo means music centre).
We arrive at Polo Osesca at around 9.15am. The centre is part time so operates two days per week. It is in a huge building which is also used for sports – this is similar to most guri setups.
The area doesn’t look particularly great however, Jean (the strings supervisor who is also my guide and translator for the day) tells me that in São Paulo there are varying levels of ‘poor’ and this is on the more affluent end of the scale.
We head inside and are greeted by lots of smiling faces scurrying from classroom to classroom carrying bits of furniture to setup for the day. We meet Ana-Carolina, the social worker for this programme, who takes us into her class of 26 young people, ranging in ages from 10-18yrs. The class is similar to what we in the UK would call social education or citizenship. The theme for the class is children’s and young people’s rights. 25 years ago, just after the UN Rights of a Child were published, the Brazilian Government published a new set of laws called ECA (Brazilian Child and Adolescent Rights Act). This for the first time recognised children (under 21yrs) as citizens who should be treated as active participants in society. In reality, children’s rights are still very much under development in Brazil and, according to the staff at the guri, most young people do not understand the law or their rights. To this end, there is an annual conference in each state for young people to discuss children’s rights and all the guri programmes select two of their participants to attend this.
The class begins with watching a fictional video about how young people changed a policy of banning lunch breaks at school through creating videos for politicians and actively campaigning. Reflecting on where we are in the UK with pupil councils etc, this seems so simple however for these children in Polo Osasco it is a revelation, and they love it! Everyone is engaged and a lively debate follows about rights. Ana-Carolina asks them to split into groups to discuss what things they would like to make better about the area they live. I join a group of four 10 year olds. They are very quick to come up with some big thinking ideas. Their list is:
– litter picked up more frequently to make the area cleaner;
– more security in their community so they can play safely outside;
– more doctors in the hospitals (healthcare here is not good, to say the least);
– more shelters for homeless people.
The other, older groups come up with more ideas which directly impact on their day to day lives:
– better food in school;
– more teachers in the classroom to handle discipline better (a real problem I’m told);
– cheaper bus travel so they don’t have to walk so much (50 cents is the suggested price, which is equivalent to around 10p here… currently it’s around 75p);
– free movies at the weekend (cinema, as in UK, is very expensive).
We focus on the ideas the younger group came up with and Ana-Carolina tells them that the law states they are entitled to play in safe, clean environments and so if they don’t feel that is happening they need to do something about it. The young people all seemed amazed that they could have any influence on politics at all. Quite a different world from the UK where our politicians are trying to get young voters on side in the lead up to the general election.
Once the class is finished, some of the older members stay behind to quiz me about Scotland. We talk a lot about music and they’re all keen to play me different pieces of music on their instruments. Some play classical, some traditional Brazilian beats and one boy, Gustavo (pictured below in the checked shirt) plays me an Ed Sheeran song. All the boys tell me they are big One Direction fans…I can’t imagine 14-16 year old boys in the UK admitting to liking One Direction, but here it is a very cool group to like.
I ask them what they like about guri and why they come in their free time rather than doing something else. Matheu (on the end holding the paper), tells me he enjoys the complete education. He says he learns all aspects of music (singing, theory and instruments) and also has social education which makes him understand more about the world. He says he feels safe here.
We leave Osasco in the West and travel an hour south to Casa Blanca. This is in a much more deprived area and we drive around a few favelas (slums) to get here. The polo itself is in a ceu…this is similar to a community campus in the UK so a venue which is open all day to the community boasting a library, sports facilities and arts/cultural facilities and activities. A large number of the guri programmes operate in ceus. Ceu means heaven, and that seems to be how the children and adults who attend this guri feel about it.
(Below: the ceu at Casa Blanca)
We spend the afternoon and early evening observing the different classes that are taking place. Today is group work rather than instrumental lessons so I watch the choirs, bands and music initiation class. Music initiation is a class for 6-10 year olds to introduce them to the basics of music and all the instruments before they finally begin lessons in one instrument aged 10. The interesting thing about guri is that children can begin the programme at any point in the year and at any age. Everyone who joins undertakes music initiation (if over 10 then they study for around 6 months before moving onto instruments). It means that there are some mixed ability classes and some mixed age classes. The teachers I speak to say it took a while to adapt to this but now it works well with the more advanced students assisting the beginners.
The final class I watch is the adult class. The leaders at guri saw that there were a number of parents hanging around the centre waiting for their children to finish classes. So, they decided to start offering free adult classes in music initiation for parents. The uptake for these are good and the class I observe has 12 parents all actively participating. They are learning to play The Beatles Let It Be on xylophone…a favourite of Brazilians I’ve discovered!
We leave just before the end of the class to head back through the traffic to the centre. I have a lot of ideas and thoughts spinning around my head about what I saw today and am keen to write them all into some cohesive train of thought before meeting again with my hosts at Santa Marcelina Cultura tomorrow to discuss. As we jump in the car, the school buses start arriving to take home the afternoon pupils…it still feels odd that school should be running at this time of day.