More information in Portuguese about this award-winning program.
In the Pedreira Prado Lopes favela (shanty-town), one of the oldest in Belo Horizonte, 12 thousand people live in an area of just over 140 thousand square meters. 58% of the favela's population is made up of youths up to 25 years of age and schooling levels of the heads of each house-hold are low: 15% are illiterate and only 6% reached high school. The favela also has high levels of violence, due to disputes over drug traffic control.
But one place in the favela gives out an incredible sensation of safety: the Raimunda da Silva Soares Professional Training School. In the midst of bullet-marked and blood-spattered houses, the School, after six years, looks clean and well-kept, and has never suffered threats, robbery or depredation. Inaugurated in 1998, the School was an answer to demands from the Pedreira Prado Lopes inhabitants, who had positive memories of a state government initiative which operated during the 1970's and had been a reference in terms of professional training.
Almost 20 years later, the Belo Horizonte government decided to fill the void left by the Center. The School was placed under the responsibility of the Municipal Department for Affairs of the Black Community (which later, due to administrative reform, became the Black Community Affairs Office, part of the Municipal Department of Citizenship Rights), as it was soon obvious that the new public tool should go beyond professional training. It was necessary to include citizenship education and, more specifically, to look at the racial issue.
Besides learning a determined work process, the School considers that students should develop autonomy, critical thinking, solidarity and the habit of reflection. For this reason, lessons focus not only on specific content but also on themes such as labor legislation, job safety and globalization and education for citizenship. Issues of racism are covered in themes related to community life, resulting in a greater identification of pupils in relation to the problem. The 2004 schedule offered 40 different courses, divided in six areas: food, craft work, beauty and hygiene, culture, information technology and services, and health promotion. Examples of courses are office assistant, hairdressing, computers, cookery, furniture and wall painting and handicrafts. The wide variety of subjects seeks not only to fulfill the interests of the inhabitants, but also the demand identified in the local job market, researched in the newspapers.
Due to the lack of spaces available in the favela for community activities, the School is open to groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, the School houses centers from a number of governmental and non governmental programs, such as the Internet Citizen Program, an initiative of the municipal government for free public internet access. The community participates actively in the debate on how the School should function. Course formulation, buying of materials, supervision of resources, hiring of teachers and especially course evaluations are all carried out with participation of a board, made up of government and community representatives, employees, students and former students.
Research shows that in Pedreira Prado Lopes, 59.8% of families have a black woman as their head, a fact that has been given special attention by the School. In a community where being a "dealer's woman" is a privileged and respectable social status, it is not unusual to find pregnant 12 or 13 year-olds. However, many girls and women have managed to free themselves from submission and generate their own income with basis on skills acquired at the School. Courses directed specifically at the female segment, such as hairdressing, nail care and cookery, show immediate results, enabling girls and women to support themselves.