By Andrew Willis, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A new computer course in Complexo do Alemão – a sprawling group of fourteen favelas in Zona Norte (North Zone) which houses some 70,000 residents – aims to increase computer literacy among children living in the area, boosting their job prospects for the future.
The recently inaugurated pilot program, called “Connecting Rio’s Youth”, will run for a year in four private schools located inside the Complexo do Alemão, reaching an estimated 800 children according to the Community in Action NGO (non-profit) that is funding the program.
Through a partnership with the Centre for Digital Inclusion, another NGO that specializes in using technology to fight poverty, the four schools have each been equipped with a small computer lab and the services of a specially trained teacher for one day a week.
In addition, regular teachers in the schools will have access to the computers for administrative purposes and the plan is to open up the labs to parents and the wider community on weekends.
The computer curriculum says American expatriate Zak Paster, who established the NGO in 2004, is very much designed around community needs and interests, teaching the pupils new skills that might otherwise be ignored.
“In the favelas, when kids go into an Internet café, they know how to use Facebook, Orkut, Twitter and play games,” he says. “But computer literacy such as word processing and PowerPoint presentations, that they don’t have.”
Paster says the NGO’s ultimate aim is to roll the program out to all schools in the Complexo do Alemão, once one of Rio’s most notorious areas for drug trafficking and violence until it was raided by units from the Brazilian army, navy and Special Ops Battalion (BOPE) in 2010 and subsequently ‘pacified’.
As far as the NGO’s choice of private schools for the pilot project, Pastor says it was logistically necessary due to the complexity of dealing with Brazil’s municipal authorities. “Because of the bureaucracy in the public school side, we realized that it would be much more complicated and time consuming,” he explains.
The four schools to benefit from the pilot program are the Centro Educacional Rodrigues Silva and the Centro Educacional Vieira Leandro, located in Ramos, plus the Escola Cordeirinho do Senhor and the Jardim Escola Palácio Verde, located in Olaria.
A grant from the Good Works Institute, a small foundation in the U.S., helped the pilot project get off the ground, but the program’s continuation will hinge on more money being made available.
Funds from a different source, the government’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), have already brought about significant changes inside Complexo do Alemão in recent years. For instance, the PAC helped pay for the cable car system that since its inauguration in 2011 has been shuttling inhabitants around the community for the price of R$1.
Community in Action’s administrative manager, Rosângela Maria dos Santos, joined the team in 2006 and has witnessed the huge changes that have taken place inside the complex. “It’s a much easier place to live in now, although there are still problems,” she says. “For instance, before the pacification it was practically impossible to get a builder to come and work, now they are flooding in.”
The changes have also helped Community in Action alter its business model and focus on placing overseas volunteers in different work projects throughout the area, something the NGO struggled with until recently because of the security situation.