Brazil continues to face an economic slump that started in 2014 and that was further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy shrank by 4.1%, the largest single-year contraction in the past three decades. While the poverty rate temporarily fell to 21 percent in 2020, thanks to generous governmental transfers to 66 million individuals, it is expected to rise again this year with the end of the temporary assistance programme and a weak labor market recovery caused by the second wave of the pandemic.
Aside from having a severe impact on the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic also produced an unprecedented education crisis. In 2020, some 47 million Brazilian students missed all in-person classroom instruction, as more than 180,000 schools remained closed. According to UNICEF, Brazil had the largest number of students impacted by school closures worldwide, after Bangladesh, Mexico and the Philippines. Teachers had to adapt overnight to teach remotely and vulnerable young people living in marginalized communities, like the ones where Redes da Maré operates, saw low-educated parents replacing their teachers on homeschooling. In many cases, internet connection did not reach vulnerable households, and the mental burden on students, parents and teachers due to lockdown and uncertainty made learning, teaching and parenting even harder.
Maré, where Redes operates, is the biggest complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, comprising 16 communities and approximately 140,000 people.Young people in Maré grow up in overcrowded, poorly ventilated homes that lack access to basic sanitation and –in many cases– drinking water, which contributes to the spread of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, clashes between the police and drug gangs overshadowed school life, with youth routinely missing classes because of armed conflict. Schools shut for several hours during police operations, and families keep their children at home if tensions are high. According to the most recent census data, 36% of young people between the ages of 15 and 19, had dropped out of school in Maré. High dropout rates are attributed to a lack of interest by students, urban violence (including youth being recruited by gangs), high levels of teenage pregnancy, and a lack of opportunity to pursue higher education. All these challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Redes de Maré evolved out of the work of a local activist, Eliana Souza Silva. The daughter of Northeast Brazil migrants, Eliana grew up in Maré, where she lived from the age of 7, got married and raised two children. In 1984, she became the first woman to be elected to the Maré Residents’ Association. By 1997, Eliana and three fellow activists came together to found Redes da Maré, which registered as a legal entity in 2007. At the time when she was growing up in Maré, Eliana was among the less than 1% of favela dwellers who had the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education. After graduating from university, she returned to Maré and founded Redes.
Today, Redes is a well-established organisation committed to community development and combatting all forms of violence in Maré. The organisation has approximately 80 full-time employees, including 5 directors, 5 senior thematic coordinators, and 30 project coordinators, each of which has its own interdisciplinary team comprised of teachers, art educators, and social workers, which add-up to an additional 70 part-time employees.
The organisation engages favela residents through activities in several key thematic areas: education; arts and culture; social mobilization; public safety; local development; communications; combating violence; and generating jobs and income. In all of their activities, Redes da Maré pairs grassroots community engagement and mobilization with connection to a broad array of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, government agencies, private institutions, and universities, therefore creating a network that works towards the achievement of common goals.
Redes da Maré is directly and primarily responsible to the local community in which it operates. Its institutional priorities are drawn from the demands of the 16 elected Residents’ Associations in Maré and are identified through an on-going project –The Maré We Want– which creates a forum for joint discussion and community planning. The overall direction of the organisation rests with a general assembly, a strategic board, and an executive board. The executive board’s role is focused on management/implementation, while the strategic board fulfils governance duties.
EMpower’s third grant to Redes da Maré will help 200 vulnerable adolescents between the ages of 13 and 16 (60% female and 40% male) from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most vulnerable favelas receive the support they need to improve their academic performance, graduate from middle school, and successfully transition to high school. Adolescents will also develop their core life skills, access comprehensive sexuality education and gender equity training, and receive psychological/emotional support. Redes will work with parents and caretakers to prevent dropouts and improve students’ academic performance.
Primary Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Funded Since: 2019
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