Revitalizing Education in Rural Brazil
Previously it was another rolling hill on the outskirts of Poço Fundo – soon it will be the site for a brand new school.
If he tries hard, Alex Donizeti do Rosario can see it now.
"Before, all we had were projections," Café Bom Dia's Process Manager said as he reviewed the site with the engineer in charge of construction. "Now we can see it emerging right in front of us."
The school, called the Centro Educacional Cooperar (CEC), is being built with support from Café Bom Dia. It will replace the ramshackle collection of yellow buildings the local teachers' cooperative has rented since 2005.
"And not a moment too soon," said the CEC's director Maria Aparecida Avelino. "The current school is small, old, and not even their own. The new place will be state-of-the-art and six times the present size.
"The rooms here are very small and the structure is precarious," Avelino said one morning during break. "We need projectors, a video and TV room, and a library. We could do with a laboratory. We need toys for the kids and a playground.
"We have no place for physical education; the kids have to cross the road to go to the municipal gym that is loaned to us. We have no balls, nets, or sports equipment. These problems will be resolved when we move into the new school. There we'll have everything."
The CEC is a cooperative education project started in 2004 by 33 teachers who each paid 100 reais (then around $40) to join. It opened its doors in January 2005 to 150 pupils and it quickly gained a reputation for its high standard of education.
Currently it has 190 pupils aged from three to 18. One in five of those students has a parent in the Coopfam cooperative, one of the largest Fair Trade Certified cooperatives in the region, with 215 families.
Those children pay a quarter of the regular tuition fee, thanks to a special discount.
When the new school opens the number of students will double and Avelino hopes they will increase the percentage of children affiliated with Coopfam. She is confident that will happen thanks to Café Bom Dia's active participation in the project.
"As soon as they saw the school they understood our philosophy and the way we value the environment and the land and the people who work it," Avelino said of the company. "They got it. This is happening because of Café Bom Dia. They come here and help us, they are here for us, they show us what can be done. It wouldn't exist without them."
She is not the only one who is enthusiastic about the future. The school is a private institution but even the town's mayor is pitching in with turf for the gardens and machinery to help get the project going.
"The new school will not only have facilities such as a sports arena and a theater that can be used by the entire community, it will also help raise the educational bar for all local institutions," said Mayor Carlos Alberto Fagundes Gouvea.
"It is going to set a standard and even as a private school it is going to be a reference for the other schools. This is going to be great for the town."
Perhaps most important of all, it will lift the self-esteem and confidence of parents, teachers and pupils.
"I am very excited, sometimes I can't believe it," Avelino said. "I never thought anything like this would ever happen to me. The work of teachers in small towns is not valued; we don't think that we'll ever have an opportunity like this. This gives us hope."