Incredible Social Service Education Projects in the Slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil
By Dada Maheshvarananda
About 1997 Didi Ananda Jaya (originally from Maharlika-Philippines) began supervising a small preschool in Perialto, an economically impoverished slum in the north of Sao Paulo city. Universo Infantil Ananda Marga (“The Children’s Universe”) now has 120 kids aged 1- 4 years. The preschool is open from 7am-5pm Monday to Friday. Subsidized by the government, this is free of cost to the families, and the kids are served a hearty vegetarian breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks — for many, it is the only food they get on those days.
Three years ago Didi was asked to start another preschool in another nearby slum, Jardim Guaraní. This project is also free, open the same hours each day, also serves food five times a day, and also has 120 children enrolled. This has an ecological rain catchment system and solar water heating system.
Didi Ananda Jaya also took over the management of two preschools in the south of Sao Paulo: Guarapiranga I, which now has 80 kids, and Guarapiranga II, which has 120 kids — this preschool enrolls kids as young as 4 months and up to 5 years.
A fifth fulltime project that Didi is running is the Skywalker Project (Caminiante do Céu) in the Perialto Favela. According to the Mayan calendar it means those who are looking for new horizons. This is an after school tutoring project that helps 100 elementary school students aged 5-12 years old. Because the public schools are overcrowded and open for two shifts each day, half the students in this free project come in the morning from 8am to noon and are served a big breakfast and lunch before they go to regular school, while the other half of the students come at 1pm after morning public school and stay until 5pm. These students are fed lunch and dinner — often these are the only meals they eat. The project spends only 20 percent of the time tutoring. They also do a lot of music, hip-hop dance, yoga, meditation, theater and arts and crafts using recyclable materials. The daily Trust Circle is an opportunity where the kids are allowed to share. This is transformative, because many of the kids feel invisible, never heard and never seen. This project tries to give them a sense of belonging.
A total of 75 teachers and other staff are legally employed fulltime in these five projects. The curriculum is great in each of the projects, including yoga for kids, infant massage, hiphop for kids, dance, music, art, etc. Since the beginning, free milk is distributed twice every week to 100 families in Perialto.
Didi says, “We don’t just take care of the kids, we also impart Neohumanist Education. The teachers plan their lessons based on the Circle of Love curriculum, and they do a lot of sensori-motor activities with the smaller kids. All of my teachers are university graduates in education, and each unit has a director and a pedagogical coordinator, most of who have a masters degree in school management. The bigger kids also do practical life, a special feature of Montessori education, with a Brazilian twist.”
Last year O Globo, the largest TV and media news network in Brazil, searched the entire country to find the best social service project in any field for their “Generosity Project”. Out of 400 projects nominated by their journalists, the Jardim Guaraní Preschool was one of ten finalists (more than one project was not allowed from the same organization), and it was later featured on both TV and the newspaper.
On Saturday, October 5, Children’s Day, all four of the preschools will hold a public festival, as they have for the last 10 years. The street in front of the preschool is closed for the day, and over 2,000 kids come. The festival lasts all day with games, snacks, prizes, face painting, balloons, hiphop competitions, and the distribution of free toys and candies.
All these projects are run by AMURT/AMURTEL. Didi Ananda Jaya is managing them all single-handedly. You can contact her by email at: email@example.com.