Sugar and more sugar

Monday and the start of my final week here in Brasil. Today I am visiting two polos, both very different.

We arrive at the first polo at around 10am to some young boys playing Titanic. Their teacher is not here today but they still decided to get together and practice.    

  This polo is called Achiropita and is near the Italian area of São Paulo, Bixiga (pronounced bisheega). Due to the Italian influence, the area is very Catholic and the polo we are visiting happens to be in a Catholic school. Unlike any of the other guri programmes, the pupils who participate in this programme do not opt in, rather they are obligated to participate. 250 of the 300 students are made to undertake guri activities. This makes for a very different classroom dynamic than we’ve seen in other programmes. The first class we witness is a choir and behaviour is not great. I notice that they are going through a lot of repertoire and after the class the teacher informs us this is one of her methods of keeping the young people interested. The other is to use more popular and chart music, rather than classical. Given what I wrote about a few days ago, with children being treated like adults and therefore behaving like adults, this polo emphasises the opposite….the teachers are very strict (at the schools request) and treated much more like in the UK with permissions having to be asked to go to the toilet etc. 

(Below: the church attached to the school)  

After choir we have a long chat with the social assistant about the programme. She tells us how parents are keen to get their children into the school due to a few things:

1) the apprenticeship programme they offer…when children turn 15/16 they are offered a paying job through a placement scheme, usually admin work in an office. 

2) Pupils here are given a free school meal and uniform (which consists of a t-shirt). 

3) the school is all day (8am – 5pm) meaning parents can work and not worry about childcare or being home for their children.

The latter point is one which the social assistant sees as a big problem. She says parents don’t spend enough time with their children as they travel far to get to their work. One of the tasks she does is to offer opportunities for the pupils and parents to come together and undertake other expressive arts activities every so often eg drawing, sewing etc.

Before we leave the centre, we have lunch in the teachers canteen. This consists of a selection of foods (all very fresh) including the staple Brazilian favourite of beans and rice…we joke with the staff about how Brazilians have this with every meal! Dessert is a sweet, sugary fruit mix. I think this must be why Brazilians are always smiling- due to the amount of sugar they eat!

  We travel far north to a ceu called Vila Atlântica. We ask the driver about the area we’re in and he confirms it’s in the middle of a favela.      


The houses in the favela each have their own distinct personality and there’s something quite beautiful and mesmerising about the way they cascade down the hillside. It’s pointed out to me the different degrees of ‘poor’ even within the favelas: some have windows whilst some don’t, others have ornate balustrades whilst some have as little as cast iron for a roof.
We move inside the ceu to see the programme. We first watch two singing classes back to back, one for younger children and one for older. The lesson is excellent with varied techniques and repertoire to continually stimulate and develop the young voices. The teachers here work extremely hard – classes from from 9-12 with no break, then 1.30-4.30 again with no break. Rooms are small and hot with no natural light. Despite these conditions, everyone is very eager to make music and both staff and pupils put their heart into the lessons.


  As we’re leaving, one of the girls hands us a beautifully wrapped parcel each with chocolate inside. She says (in Portuguese) that she woke up happy so decided to make chocolate for all her friends here! 

 We jump in the car and enjoy our sweet gift during the intense and incredibly slow São Paulo traffic. When we get back to SMC I try yet more sugar in the form of paçoca – a peanut flavoured crumbly sugary buttery treat. I get back to the hotel and head straight to the gym to strike whilst the sugar levels are high….

Boa noite….hopefully!



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