Things are slowly returning to normal in the local school system which has meant that we have had a sudden expansion in the number of schools we are working with from 2 in September to 7 in October which is very pleasing but has also brought challenges like having to split the team into two in order to be able to work with two schools simultaneously. Whilst challenging, it has also offered an opportunity for a couple of the young people who have been with us since the beginning of the year, Ryan and Pedro, to take on leadership roles, being responsible for delivery in one school whilst Stephanie, the coordinator, is with another group in a different school.
We can also track the change in the numbers: this past month of October, 198 sessions were delivered by the 26 reading mediators working in pairs. At the beginning of the month, classes were restricted in size so on average there were 10 to 14 children in each session; in the second half of the month, with the loosening of restrictions, class sizes were up to between 20 and 22 and we are very pleased that from November 3rd, full classes of 30 students will be back.
We are receiving very positive feedback from the children and school teachers and are very glad to be a part of the important work of recuperating education post pandemic and helping children to re-engage with their learning which will be so important to them in the future. In October, we delivered sessions to 2692 children and in November we sincerely hope to reach even more.
We are immensely grateful for the continued support from all of you which enables us to do this important work in our community.
Well over half of the Brazilian population is descended from African and Indigenous peoples but teaching about their history and society in schools only became obligatory for the former in 2003 and the latter in 2008. As such, very few public school teachers know how to deliver teaching in these subjects nor are there many text books which is why we have chosen to focus on these areas for the stories we deliver to the children in schools. As the young reading mediators also have almost no knowledge, we give a lot of training for them to deliver the project with quality.
We interviewed all three of them and here are some snippets:
“The stories about Africa are really great, I'm learning more about African culture and I'm able to share some of what I learn with the children. I'm learning a lot about the history of things and how and where they came from, and especially from great figures like Nelson Mandela, who I have particularly become a big fan of his history, and how a single person can become so important to an entire country." - Ryan.
“Telling stories and learning about Africa is being a totally new and very gratifying experience, I'm really enjoying it, because I believe it's very important for us to pass on this knowledge about a little bit of our roots as well, because Brazil comes down to this briefly: diversity; and the work we do with children, bringing stories inspired by events that took place in several countries on the African continent or in theories and versions to explain why things are, etc., all of this activates and stimulates creativity, knowledge and the imagination of these children, in addition to helping them to have this basic notion of knowledge about the African continent." - Emily
“I think it's really cool that kids are interested in African culture and they're always surprised that there's always a story to explain everything. We always try to bring African books and every Thursday we tell a story and it varies between a week about Africa and a week about Brazilian indigenous culture. What I learned the most from my days here in the project is that Africana culture is very rich and little explored, and children always think it's cool and are very interested in something new that is so different." - Pedro.
Reading the interviews inspires us to cpontinue with the focus we have, confident of its importance to the children and young people.
Along with Stephanie, we also have three new reading mediators at the project who passed through a rigorous selection process with over 50 candidates. One of them is Ryan, a 17 year old young man just starting the last year of high school and who is, in his words, returning to ACER: "I wanted to become part of this project in order to develop my independence and also help out at home (financially) and especially to return to ACER which held an important and central place in my childhood."
He has very much enjoyed coming back to our community centre and meeting up with staff he has known before, now as a colleague. After doing their initial training, the group had started giving their first story telling sessions at our community centre (as schools remain closed due to the pandemic) when, due to the worsening Covid situation, ACER had to close its centre and once again we have had to move online. This, for Ryan, has been extremely challenging "the most difficult thing for me has been having to film sessions from home. I have never done this before and am not comfortable with cameras, but I have insisted and gradually I am getting there!"
There has however been a new opportunity which he has enjoyed much more; with the centre closed, all the staff and youth monitors have gone out to the community to the homes of the families to interview them on their doorsteps with rigorous sanitary care being taken. In Ryan's words "I have really enjoyed doing the survey, I went to about 10 houses which are not far from where I live but with people I didn't know before. The people received us really well and were pleased to reply to all the questions we asked and for me it was nice to know that they live (really challenging) lives very similar to me, no better, no worse."
So even with unexpected challenges, we are still finding new ways to help develop the young men and women from the project and better prepare them for adult life and the different jobs they will have one day.
With the quarantine extension meaning schools have stayed closed, and the return of some face-to-face classes at our community centre, the Stories Transforming the Future Project also resumed activities in a different way. Before, young mediators went to schools to read and play with children in their own classroom, but now the children who go to ACER to participate in other activities, now have the story telling and games sessions at our centre.
Lucas, the young man who leads the project, told how this period of activities is going:
“At the beginning, we had a lot of difficulty, due to the return of activities and protocols, but we talked and adjusted all the points and we already have a way to carry out the sessions. The biggest difficulty in the beginning was to follow all the protocols, but with day to day we adjust this, like when books are returned to the library, we leave them 48 hours in a closed box, but we talk about all the difficulties of the project and we solve them in the best possible way.
It is certainly a new experience for them, before we went to them, now they come to meet us, and the environment here at ACER is different from the school ”.
One of the reading mediators, Kaylaine, also gave us her point of view:
“I confess that this year was not easy, having to get away from what I was used to doing, but when it returned, it was not difficult to adapt again and everything happened normally and in a positive way.
I don't really think that when we got back we had difficulties, what we have to talk about is the sanitary protocol, which we had to adapt as well.
I think the kids are enjoying it, we always try to do it in a way that they like and I wouldn't change anything ”.
The children who participate in this project visit ACER twice a week and are divided into two different time slots, wearing a mask and with all the spaces and materials sanitized, thus avoiding crowding and following all precautions and safety protocols.
In addition to the activities of the Stories Transforming the Future Project, ACER's community library has contributed to the development of reading, not only for children and young people, but for people of all ages since it contains books of various types and genres, even in Braille. One of these people is Tatiana, 41, who is used to borrowing books: “I take a book out at the ACER library weekly, I think this is very important. I like it there because of the diversity of titles and the practicality of the books being already separated and during the pandemic I request the number of books and subjects via WhatsApp. It would be really nice if they gave suggestions. I would like to take the children to enjoy the environment to get a taste for reading, outside the pandemic ”.
Despite the pandemic, the Stories Transforming the Future Project continues in action, mediators are taking turns doing lives and making videos to be posted on ACER's YouTube channel. Videos are posted on Mondays and Fridays and Tuesdays and Thursdays there are live sessions on Instagram, where mediators tell stories and play games for children. Reading is very important for the development of children, in addition to being fun as Everton, who watches all the lives and videos said:
“I like storytelling, because it is good for distracting the mind and it is very cool. I think it's great! Very practical and interesting, I think it's important. It wouldn't change anything, it's very good.”
- Everton, 06 years old
It is also very important for our teenagers, as it has given them the opportunity to improve their communication and the way they work. Kaylaine, one of the young mediators told us about the experience:
“In most of the stories we tell, there is some kind of teaching behind it or some way to develop children's imagination and thus also encourage them to want to read more stories. I like making videos and lives, because somehow I still help and keep doing the work I like. We reading mediators have the role of encouraging and bringing reading closer to children, contributing to their development, and I would not change any of that.”
- Kaylaine, 16 years old - Reading Mediator.
It is very important and gratifying to know that the Project is making improvements in so many lives, for young people and children, improving their development despite all this difficult period that we are facing, because even in isolation, children can have contact with educational activities, because not all parents have time to read a book for the child.
We are really looking forward to the return of storytelling and puppet theatre in schools.
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