Jul. 2nd, 2011

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BRAZIL: Rainbow of Colours and Gender Equality at Innovative School

SÃO PAULO, Jul 1, 2011 (IPS) - In the last three years there have been no teen pregnancies among the youngsters at Casa do Zezinho, an extracurricular educational and cultural facility in Brazil attended by 1,500 children and young people from favelas or shantytowns on the south side of São Paulo.

A unique experiment in the sex education workshops has helped prevent teen pregnancy, a problem that tends to lead to school dropout and fuels poverty. Three years ago, a few boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 20 were selected to be the "pregnant" ones in class, and to wear a plastic belly for a few months that grows as the pregnancy advances.

The selected youngsters miss out on activities that pregnant women would normally have to avoid, such as engaging in sports like football – especially frustrating for the "pregnant" boys – or swimming in the pool on the Casa do Zezinho's 3,200 square metre property.

"All they could do was practice yoga," Dagmar Garroux, the founder and president of the institution who is known as "Tía Dag" or Auntie Dag, laughingly comments to IPS.

After the youngsters wear the growing belly month to month, the baby – a papier maché doll they have made themselves – is "born" and they have to care for the new infant, nursing and bathing it and changing the diapers – all of the responsibilities faced by young parents.

And they continue to miss the dances and parties organised at the Casa, just like adolescent mothers in the favelas, Garroux said.

Thanks to these and other creative initiatives, "the cycle of teenage pregnancy was broken" and the use of condoms increased among the youngsters attending the Casa, she said.

When she came to the area to live and work, Garroux was a teacher who was dissatisfied with the "stupid" conventional teaching methods "stuck in the 19th century," which made her switch schools "every three months." In 1994, she founded Casa do Zezinho.

She developed what she calls the "rainbow teaching system", used in all activities at the centre, which is attended by youngsters from the surrounding favelas. The method is based on equal treatment for everyone, girls and boys as well as teachers and students, and on the concept that educating is love and sharing.

The day that IPS visited the Casa, the teachers stressed that they did not treat boys and girls, or gauge their academic progress, differently, since the goal is to strengthen their autonomy and personalities – somewhat revolutionary in a community where many parents still believe it is a "waste of time" for their daughters to go to school.

Garroux has had to convince many mothers that staying in school is the only way their daughters can have a chance at a better life than they themselves have had, and can have the same opportunities as boys and men – although she clarifies that they will still face widespread sexist discrimination and stereotypes.

"But they will have a much better opportunity to leave behind the cycle of violence, submission and poverty," said Tia Dag, who has become an expert at detecting signs of violence or sexual abuse among girls, and along with her team and social workers helps find solutions and therapy for the perpetrators and the victims.MORE


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