Note from BW of Brazil: Well, needless to say, I wish someone would have told me about this school in all of my years visiting Salvador, Bahia! For any of the readers of this blog and this particular article, ask yourself this question. When you were a child, say, age 6 to 12, what did you learn about the history and culture of Africa and her descendants in the diaspora? In my own personal experience in Catholic schools, I can say that I learned NOTHING! In fact, considering all of my years of education, I only had classes that introduced anything to me about my people when I began attending a community college in Detroit, Michigan. I can say, those classes changed my perspective of who I was and why the black community was in the situation it was in.
After such a long journey into Brazil, I can attest to the fact that the experience of Brazilian children in terms of learning any history about black people is the same if not worse than the United States. Scholars and students have acknowledged this. We know that racism is key factor that leads black children to abandon school. We also know that black children can feel humiliated in school because the role of black people in history is usually relegated to slavery. It has also been proven that not only are teachers unprepared to incorporate elements of Black/African History into their curriculum, they often deal with their black students in a very racist manner.
Due to our complex history with Western countries since the 15th century, to change the future and perspective of our children in regards to education, we must first make them feel a connection to the material so that they can see themselves as equals to other children in the school environment. The Luiza Mahin school in Salvador, Bahia, has been doing this decades and it is sure having a great impact on the lives of the children of the community. I wish I would have experienced such a school when I was a child. The next time I visit Salvador, I will most definitely make an effort to visit this school. And considering Salvador’s enormous black population, these types of schools need to spread throughout the entire city!
A school of African descendants
by Kátia Mello
Twenty-eight years ago, a group of black women from the outskirts of Salvador, Bahia, in the Uruguai district, region of Alagados, met to found a community school. Jamie Alves Muniz, Maria de Lourdes da Conceição Nascimento, Marilene da Conceição Nascimento, Maria Aucélia Rodrigues da Cruz, Diva da Paixão, Sônia Rodrigues, Jandayra Neusa Bonfim, Manuela Bonfim and Solange Souza do Espirito Santo were dissatisfied with the fact that their children didn’t have a good school in their community. Their names are important because they have shown themselves to be warriors.
Some of these women were teachers and others were part of the movimento negro (black movement). From the Association of Residents of Conjunto Santa Luzia, they decided to found a school that couldn’t have gotten a better name: Luiza Mahin, in honor of the freed slave brought to Brazil from Costa Mina (Nagô de Nação) in Africa, and that here, participated in important uprisings, such as the Malês Revolt (1835), the largest slave rebellion in Brazil, and the Sabinada (1837-1888), which proclaimed the República Bahiense (Bahian Republic). Luiza was a true revolutionary and the mother of Luiz Gama, the black intellectual of slave-owning nineteenth-century Brazil, an exponent of romanticism, and considered a national hero, as Patron of the Abolition of Brazilian Slavery.
To talk about the school, which today is a national reference for Afro-Brazilian children’s education, the Geledés column in the debate spoke with one of its founders, Jamira Alves Muniz. “From the door of the school to the kitchen, everything here goes through the racial question,” she says. Long before Law 10.639/03 of 2003 established the compulsory teaching of African history and African and Afro-Brazilian cultures in the basic education curriculum, the Luiza Mahin School was already doing so.
The racial question is worked on in depth, awakening the pride of blackness and its culture. In addition to the director, three coordinators assume the pedagogical responsibilities and school administration. The educators adopted the literacy methodology of Paulo Freire and Emília Ferreiro, and every school classroom is named after a black heroine. The library, for example, takes the name of Clementina de Jesus. In addition to the classes, the institution also promotes various artistic actions with themes about African culture.
The founder tells us that there are several activities for crianças afrodescendentes (African-descendant children), three to five years old, that reflect on their identities, starting with African storytelling. “Our educational methodology seeks to tell children their true histories. On Fridays we have several workshops. Children learn, for example, African dances and how to make black dolls,” says Jamira. The art-education workshops are promoted by Reprotai (Network of Protagonists in Action of Itapagipe), an association of young people from the community who teach dance, singing, capoeira, handicrafts, cutting and sewing and percussion workshops. The school also offers courses for women in the neighborhood.
Jamira reports that knowledge of African culture and the discussion of Afro-Brazilian identity has transformed the lives of these children and their families. “They began to feel valued for their black beauty. We work on belonging,” she says. And the change was not only between boys and girls, but also impacted the teachers. “There were teachers who define themselves as black. They were afraid or maybe ashamed,” she recalls. Ties of affection between teachers and students are evident. In this way, some former students graduated in pedagogy and returned to school as educators. “Here we teach and learn,” says Jamira. In 2015, the school joined the Program because it is an association, the Escola Comunitária Luiza Mahin (Luiza Mahin Community School) has no tuition, but each member mother pays a small fee for the maintenance of the space. Today, the full-time school has only kindergarten education, but since last year it has been campaigning to raise funds to run a nursery and welcome the babies from the Alagados region. The institution houses 280 children and the very few vacancies are always very disputed. In 2015, Luíza Mahin was recognized as one of the Transforming Schools, an initiative that identifies and engages schools across the country that are building new avenues for truly transformative education.