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A Brazilian Answer


A Brazilian Answer

I have witnessed the good side of globalization.
It was hard to hide my emotions when I looked
into the eyes of
every child and stepmother receiving the Bolsa-Escola in
Tanzanian shillings from
a Ugandan mother living in the US,
who got funding from a British foundation.

by:
Cristovam Buarque

In April 2000, I took a taxi from downtown Washington to the local airport. To "break the ice," I asked the cab driver
which US state he came from. He replied that he was not American, but, rather, from Uganda, Central Africa. After recovering
from my surprise, I inquired about the current situation of AIDS orphans in his native country. He replied that he had lost a
sister and a brother-in-law and that his mother had to look after the grandchildren. He also mentioned that thousands of
orphaned children were left alone in the streets of Kampala. His wife, he added, ran a Non-Governmental Organization to support
these children.

When he had finished, I told him why I was in town. I spoke of my meeting with the World Bank and of Missão
Criança.* I explained the Bolsa-Escola (Scholarship-School) program [Editor’s Note: Bolsa-Escola is a stipend given poor families
in exchange for their children going to school instead of having to work to help maintain the family.] and how it removed
children from work and the street and brought them back to school.

Each explanation and piece of information I offered inspired a new question from him. When we were near the airport,
he asked if I would mind continuing our conversation. After my check-in, I saw the taxi driver coming in my direction. We
resumed our talk, and, after 20 or 30 minutes, I boarded my plane to Geneva, Switzerland.

Exporting the Program

Some days later, after returning to Brazil, I got an e-mail from Rhoy Kaima, the taxi driver’s wife. She told me that she
had read the material I left with her husband and wondered if it would be possible to implement the Bolsa-Escola in one of
the countries where her organization, Ark Foundation, was active, these being Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. I told her yes,
on the condition that the project would first be implemented in Tanzania, in homage to former President Julius Nyerere.

In the following months, the staff of Missão Criança established regular contact with Rhoy and the Ark Foundation,
explaining the implementation proceedings for the Bolsa-Escola. Gradually, the program begun to take shape; meanwhile, we were
seeking outside funding for it. In the middle of the process, I was invited to Geneva, where I met with Reinaldo Figueredo, former
Foreign Minister of Venezuela.

The program, he said, could possibly be well received by an English foundation for which his wife, Michelina
Figueredo, was one of the counselors. From his office I contacted Missão Criança in Brasília and asked the staff to draft a pilot
project quickly. Due to the different time zones, it was ready the next morning.

Some months later, the Parthenon Foundation of London approved the project, offering financial resources sufficient
to cover up to 250 Tanzanian families for two years. In 2002, we were able to begin paying the scholarships to these
children in Dar es Salaam. A long road had been traveled in these two years.

By mid 2002, the Director of UNESCO/Brazil, Jorge Werthein, invited me to make a speech at the VIII Conference of
Education Ministers in Africa (MINEDAF VIII), which would be held in Dar es Salaam. In addition to my interest in this
opportunity to promote the Bolsa-Escola, I accepted the invitation primarily for the chance to visit the beneficiaries of Missão
Criança. When I discovered that the taxi driver’s wife would be there taking care of her projects, I was even more eager to make
the trip.

I met Rhoy Kaima in the house where the Tanzanian branch of the Ark Foundation is based. She was an active
African who was very indignant about political corruption, a sad woman, by no means tolerant of the current situation of the
African people. She told me that the adolescents she looked after had lost their parents that day, the night before, the preceding
week, or would lose them in the following days. Many of the children, moreover, were already infected by HIV themselves.
Walking among them, she was constantly issuing orders, suggesting actions, attempting to resolve each problem of funeral
arrangements, housing for orphans, schooling, food, medication.

Very well informed about world events, especially those in Africa, she used our taxi ride to the children’s location to
give us an evaluation of the tragedies in African society caused by the frightening international debt, the chronic poverty,
the general corruption, and, above all, the terrible threat of AIDS. She said that in Africa the disease has left teachers dead,
sick, infected or about to become infected.

160 Kids and a Song

It was precisely in this gloomy scenario that we finally met our 160 children, almost all of them AIDS orphans and
many of them themselves already infected, although unaware of the implications of this. The school, a single-room barrack, is
poor, but clean. The children and their stepmothers were awaiting us and welcomed us with a song. We entered the school;
the adults sat on benches, and the children, on the floor. All of the latter appeared to be less than 10 years old. We began
handing out the certificates of class attendance. After that, Rhoy Kaima delivered the scholarship stipend to each adult present.

I could say that I have witnessed the good side of globalization. For a Brazilian who started to disseminate the idea
of the Bolsa-Escola 15 years ago, who began to implement it eight years ago, and who, for the last four years, has traveled
all over the world promoting the Bolsa-Escola initiative, I should confess that it was hard to hide my emotions when I
looked into the eyes of every child and stepmother receiving the stipend in Tanzanian shillings from a Ugandan mother living in
the US who got funding from a British foundation, money that had been previously deposited in Brazilian reais in Brasília. I
reflected that this entire story began with a simple taxi drive to the Washington airport.

In the two speeches I made for the ministers, I began by saying that I was there despite being neither African nor a
minister. I was, however, probably "half-African," like the good Brazilian that I am, and "half-minister" since the Brazilian
newspapers were speculating over my possible appointment to the Ministry of Education.

Then, I explained what the Bolsa-Escola was, described its results in various countries, and concluded by reminding
the audience that the program was already operating right there in Dar es Salaam and, much better than listening to general
thoughts from me, would be for them to hear the person responsible for the program, Rhoy Kaima.

The two times she spoke, Rhoy was both firm and emotional while discussing the African situation, as if those
African ministers were not entirely cognizant of it. But, since they are confined in their personal offices with air conditioning,
travel around in their armored Mercedes, like the ministers of other countries, perhaps in a way they are
not aware of —or are aware of, but not troubled by—the reality surrounding them.

Rhoy concluded by explaining what the Bolsa-Escola program did to change the lives of all those families. She also
mentioned that during the first month of the program she had to cut off some of the scholarships of the children who were not
attending the classes. Shortly after, however, this would not be a problem and attendance was now high. She stated that the
program solved the basic problems of those families, and how it had reduced school drop-outs. She finally concluded with the
words in English, "This is what Africa needs."

Without School

If, while in Washington two years ago, I had come out the hotel door seconds later, I would have taken another taxi
and the present situation of these children would have been completely different. It was the combination of coincidence, the
interest of a Ugandan taxi driver, the militancy of his wife, the good will of an ex-minister of Venezuela, and the hard work of
Missão Criança that made it possible to bring hope to a small group of 160 children.

This is almost nothing in the wide universe of the 90 million children out of school on the African continent, and the
250 million children already in the workforce worldwide, of which more than 3 million are in Brazil alone. Perhaps, with the
ministers’ interest in the challenge proposed by Rhoy, her example in Dar es Salaam can be expanded all across the African
continent. It is a story that began with a simple taxi drive on the other side of the world.

It was a long journey from Washington to Dar es Salaam, and it took place from 2000 to 2002, passing through
Brasilia, Geneva and London. And it was accomplished thanks to so many people and so many organizations, through e-mails,
international flights, telephone calls _ everything modern and global. A good globalization in the service of children
excluded in a globalized world.

* NGO created by Cristovam Buarque based in Brasilia, Brazil.
Web page: www.missaocrianca.org.br

Cristovam Buarque is the president of Missão Criança (Child Mission), was elected Senator from Brasília, and is
Brazil’s new Minister of Education since January 1, 2003. He can be reached at cristovambuarque@uol.com.br

Translated by Fábio Eon – UNESCO

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