Back earlier in the year I had the pleasure to do a story on the work of the Mais Caminhos charity in Rio's Ipanema just around the corner from where I live. It is part of Caminhos Language School where I studied Portuguese when I first arrived in Rio last year. Besides being the city's number one ranked Portuguese school, and a great place for foreigners to make friends while they're here, they also help in the local favela called Cantagalo.
More correctly they prefer to refer to favelas as communities (since saying favela is basically saying slum and they do have names like all other suburbs), and it's a sad reality that children from them can quite often have a difficult time getting educated. While Cantagalo is relatively safe it does have outbursts of occasional violence, I’ve heard gunshots from there from by bedroom before, and it's this sort of violence worse in other favelas which is holding children back from learning.
Quite literally they cannot leave their home sometimes for days at a time due to gun battles between warring gangs and with the police. One of those couple of times I heard shots from my room one morning they were so loud and shocking I jumped out of my bed in fright, I can only imagine what it’d be like in the thick of it, you’d be bunkering down like you’re in Syria. Schools are closed or find themselves right in the middle of the crossfire, with students being shot and killed inside a place where they should be safe and building their futures.
Maria Eduarda, 14, was one of those students. I did this article for Crinkling News to show Australian children that getting an education isn't something to take for granted. While they might want to sleep in or chuck a sickie or go to the shopping centre because school is boring or whatever, all of which I did at sometime or another, there are kids in other parts of the world like in Rio who would give anything just for the opportunity to walk safely to school without even the faintest notion of gunfire breaking out being possible.
Gunshots are something most Aussies are unaccustomed to, but in Rio to hear them is a part of life, especially inside the poorer communities. I hope telling a little about Maria, and the work of Mais Caminhos, goes a little way to honouring her memory and showing the world that we should never take the good fortune we have in our lives as anything other than opportunity to better ourselves and make the world a better place.
Education breaks cycles of poverty, it provides jobs, it reduces crime and it gives hope.