28 May 2007

Public or Private and Nothing In-between

When I first arrived in Brazil and started visiting teams something wasn’t clicking for me. They were doing great work. The impact was evident. But why was it the way it was?

I’ve never seen poverty quite like this. The better part of a year in China, time in Greece, Bosnia, Argentina & Mexico and yet nothing quite compares to the situation in Sao Paulo. Flavellas (Shanty Towns) extending for miles and miles in every direction. People living in cement box makeshift apartments stacked three-high. Random muggings in broad daylight with hundreds of people around right outside the Cathedral downtown, where droves of homeless Brazilians shower in the shimmering new fountains outside, sleep on piles of old blankets and dive into trash can looking for their next meal. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo is home to 70,000 millionaires!

I firmly believe that every major social problem in our world is rooted in a lack of education resources and inequity in youth. Nobody chooses where they are born or to which social class they will be a part. If it’s not their choice then why should they be punished for not having wealthy parents, or for not being born in Canada or Europe or the United States? Education has to be the social equalizer; the one thing that everyone is guaranteed. The one thing that no one can take away, deny or be prejudiced against. Kids are kids are kids and each and every one deserves a chance at a better life.

This is where it is all rooted in Brazil. As it was explained to me, poor kids go to public schools in their youth. The schools have no resources, are plagued by violence and give little to their students. Meanwhile, the parents of rich kids pay lots and lots of money for their children to go to private schools, where they learn three languages, study abroad and wear uniforms. Then comes time to go to University! Everyone takes the same, extremely difficult exam to get into free Public Universities, which are the best in the country. The rich kids who went to private schools do well and get in. The poor kids don’t, which means that if they want a university degree they need to pay loads of money to go to a private university that is both bad and overpriced. They, of course, don’t have the money so they either don’t go or take out huge loans to attend. The only problem is, few businesses will hire graduates of private universities because they are SO BAD, so the poor kids are then deep into debt and can’t find jobs. Meanwhile, the rich kids get a free University education and continue on to find incredible jobs. Seriously? In as few words as possible, THIS SUCKS, and it is at the root of most social problems in Brazil. Oh wait, it’s at the root of most social problems in America as well…hmm…

Consider this: A poor kid in public school knows he isn’t going to get into public university because his current school stinks. This kids also knows that means their only option is private university, which they don’t have the money for and which is known to NOT lead to a job. Why try at all then? Every ounce of drive and commitment is pulled out of them and then you end up with another generation of uneducated adults scraping by day-to-day. I’m sure you can imagine how much this enrages me…

It also creates more and more social problems that need more and more solutions, which is where Youth Venture (Geracao Muda Mundo (Generation Change The World) in Brazil) comes in. More soon. Just let the above fester in your mind a bit.

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