Presidential elections in Brazil took place in late 2018, in a context of economic crisis and widespread corruption. Former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing candidate known for making racist and homophobic comments, won by a landslide, with his party becoming the largest force in Congress. Bolsonaro’s election, supported by Brazil’s powerful evangelical movement, marked a sharp swing away from three decades of center-left governments. In his first month in office, Bolsonaro unveiled sweeping plans to implement pro-market economic policies and a conservative social agenda. On issues relevant to EMpower’s agenda, such as education, Bolsonaro’s proposal has been for the removal of what he calls “Marxist garbage”- code for any teaching that deals with sexuality or gender issues- from the classroom.
Rio de Janeiro, the state where Redes da Maré is located, faces significant challenges. The city is increasingly affected by drug and police violence and has been under military intervention since February 2018. In certain neighborhoods, the murder rate is as high as 140 per 100,000 people. Redes da Maré runs its programs in Maré, one of the biggest complexes of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, comprising 16 communities and approximately 140,000 inhabitants. Young people growing up in Maré face high levels of poverty, limited access to public services, social and economic exclusion and human rights abuses. Maré has suffered decades of drug-related violence due to the presence of all three of the city’s drug factions and armed militia group.
One of the greatest challenges faced by low-income youth is entering the labor market. More than 50% of residents in Maré are children and teens under 21 years of age, a population with an average of four years of schooling. There is a tendency for these youth to become part of the large contingent of “neither studying nor working” - a situation, which according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, affects one in five Brazilians aged 15-29.
Redes da Maré evolved out of the work of a local activist, Eliana Souza Silva. In 1984, Eliana became the first women elected to the Residents Association of the community of Maré. By 1997, Eliana and three fellow activists came together to found Redes da Maré, which became a legal entity in 2007. At the time when they were growing up in Maré, these four individuals were among less than 1% of the favela dwellers who had the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education. After university, they returned to the community and formed the organization as a vehicle and expression of their on-going personal and social commitment to the betterment of Maré.
Today, Redes da Maré is a well-established organization committed to community development, long-term structural transformation and combating all forms of violence in the favela, providing direct services to 5,000 people, including children, adolescents, and adults. The organization 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, social workers, and others, which adds up to an additional 70 part-time employees.
The organization engages favela residents through activities in several key thematic areas: education, arts and culture, social mobilization, public safety, local development, communication, combating violence, and generating jobs and income. In all of their activities Redes da Maré couples grassroots community engagement and mobilization with connection to a broad array of institutions, including civil society organizations, government agencies, private institutions, and universities.
Redes da Maré is directly and primarily responsible to the local community in which it operates. The priorities for its work are drawn from the demands of the 16 elected Residents’ Association in Maré and 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 organization rests with a general assembly, strategic board, and an executive board. The executive board’s role is more one of the implementation rather than governance, while the strategic board fulfills governance duties. The organization roots within Maré, as well as their connections outside of the community, lend them a high degree of legitimacy and credibility with favela residents. They are recognized as an institution capable of bringing community leaders into dialogue with government representatives and other external agencies in order to bring about change.
EMpower’s 1st grant to Redes da Maré, will help the organization continue and expand a program aimed at improving the academic performance of 140 vulnerable adolescents between the ages of 13 and 16 who reside in Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela. The program will also help increase student retention rates and prepare them for the demanding entrance exam to top-quality high schools. Maré residents have lower education levels, including lower literacy rates than the rest of the city. Program participants will receive 3 hours of training a day, five days a week for two semesters on reading and writing, math, chemistry, physics, history, biology, geography, and civics, and receive support from a psychologist and social worker. In addition, the organization will involve parents in the program, as research shows that parental participation helps improve students behavior, attendance, and achievement. Gender and sexuality education will be a cross-cutting theme.
Primary Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Funded Since: 2019
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