The “why” I was looking for

With this post, I aim to tell you 2 things – that taking a gap year changed
the way I look at education, and my next step in life.

To begin with, my volunteer work is at a public elementary school Since the
start, I have been without any fixed work tasks instead free to create my
own. So what have I done since September? In the first weeks, I mostly
observed and tried to understand how things worked. I shadowed lessons,
teacher’s reunions, break-times… I talked to the students, teachers,
parents, the director… I found plenty of issues from my point of view –
distractions, lack of resources, no soundproofing, sugary food, tired and
unmotivated teachers, and the list goes on. I saw through solely from my
perspective with my previous experiences as my reference. My experiences as
a student in Sweden and at the international school Red Cross Nordic UWC.
GCY and my supervisor thought me that I must first learn to observe and
listen before I can point fingers on the aspect I thought was wrong. So, I
practised seeing from an administrative and teacher’s perspective as well
as a Brazilian.

During my observations, several similarities to my Swedish education became
clear to me. For example, unnecessary waste of paper, memorise textbook
type of learning, tired or lack of teachers, noisy and boring classrooms,
and not enough focus on individual learning. However, keep in mind that I
graduated from my fundamental education 5 years ago and we are living in a
fast technological developing society. On the other hand, are the
differences. In Sweden, all education for Swedish citizens is paid through
taxes. In Brazil, there exist both public and paid private schools. In
other words, you have to pay to ensure your kid a good education. For
example, the public school I work at doesn’t have a sports hall,
auditorium, music room, nor any construction for the playground. Do they
have lessons in textile work, woodcraft and cooking like I had in
elementary school? Nope, but maybe in 20 years?

I began to write up solutions after solutions to the “problems” I saw. A
frustration grew inside of me alongside a fire. I thought, “I need to help
this school!”. Stop right there. One of our GCY leaders taught me an
important lesson – that the projects that aim to solve other’s problems
which you “discovered” are doomed to fail. The world is more complex than
that, and, did you ever ask the other person if it even was an issue?
Still, more frustration arose as the teachers couldn’t see from my
perspective, they only pointed out other reason to the same problem. I saw
how the environment’s effect on students’ concentration and the need for
decoration and soundproofing while they blamed the lack of respect and
poorly engagement from the parents. I recognise it, but also, look at the
bare walls without any colour and perfect noise amplifier. In the end,
there are several root issues to one problem tree that displays itself in
numerous branches.

In November and December, 3 fellows and I decided to do our “This is
Brazil” presentation on “Education in Brazil”. For this task from GCY, we
interviewed kids from the school I am working at and from another fellows’
school which is located in a favela. The result screamed inequality, still,
we are only discussing two different public schools. One example is the
differences between the answers to the question “what would you like to
work with when you grow up?”. The kids in the poorer school seemed to be
unable to imagine themselves as an architecture, pilot, doctor, lawyer, or
any profession that requires a higher education – many times due to the
lack of interest in continuing to study. Not to mention, that some students
leave elementary school illiterate according to the teachers at my work.
After the presentation, my insight on the problems within the educational
system in Brazil expanded from my school in Santo Antonio De Lisboa to a
national perspective. I started to connect the inadequate and unequal
Brazilian educational system to deeper social issues within the country –
such as segregation, racism, gender inequality, young maternity, etc. I
came to the conclusion that a good education is the most fundamental part
of society. Imagine the difference between the educational systems that;
teach memorizing vs understanding, use censoring vs critical thinking,
tells you to remake vs be creative. Now, imagine how it would reflect
itself in society.

Still, I haven’t even touched upon what I have done at the school, Paulo
Fontes. I could have written about the midsummer celebration for cultural
sharing, the interactive games I played with several classes, the critical
reading project, or even, the current project on decorating the central
spot with textiles to minimize the sound, create exhibition opportunities
and to brighten up the school. Although, as we learnt at the program launch
at Stanford the first week of Global Citizen Year – that we don’t go the
volunteer to “help”, our purpose is to learn. This realization helped me
understand that the most important part of my volunteer experience will not
be my projects, but instead the conversations with the students, director
and teachers, attending to teachers’ protest, reunions of educational staff
and parents. In short, being patient in order to observe and recognise bit
by bit how a different system works and learn from it.

The second thing I mentioned, in the beginning, was that it changed my next
step in life. Let me now explain how, as I will tie it all together. You,
the sweet soul that are reading this blog, most likely are familiar with me
and probably thought that I was going to study design or arts. However, I
chose “Politics, Law, and Economics” as my bachelor degree. This decision
grew from what our leader would call “the burning” which some people would
explain with the word “passion”. Though, I like to describe it as “a
feeling of cultivating the opportunities offered to me by “life” and learn
as much as possible to be able to give back to my community”. Therefore, my
next step is to learn about the differences I experienced during my gap
year in compared to my previous life in Scandinavia. Is this my “why” that
Abby Falik was talking about?

GCY fellows, students from Paulo Fontes, and young musicians celebrating

1st-grade students visiting the local art store & museum in Santo Antonio
De Lisboa.

Inside the art store & museum.

Teathre play at Paulo Fontes.

Students at the playground during break time.

After the #friday4future demonstration, the protest signs were brought to
the school and put on the outside facing the street.

Inside the school. Giselle, another GCY fellow, and I are measuring the
roof for our final community project. The aim is to decorate the roof with
fabric to minimize sound and light up the area.

The poster about our final community project which we put up with hoping to
reach out to parents and other community members.

The final picture is of the director (Bete), her son, and me.

Thank you, Bete, teachers, staff, parents and students of Paulo Fontes –
you changed my life.
// Ida (sem volta) Nydélius