Note from BW of Brazil: So many things to celebrate in a story like this one. Of course, congratulations are in order for Ana Karla Nascimento Santa Ana for not letting anything deter her from attaining her dream. She overcame not only poverty, falling behind in school and challenges in her family, but also confronted a Brazilian society’s widely held belief that black people cannot achieve certain things. And as we have seen, time and time again, even when they do achieve, Brazil treats them as if they don’t belong in the space they earned with so much effort, sacrifice and dedication and instead seeks to keep them in “their place”. For this reason, whenever I discover stories like this, I try to share them with my readers.
Woman who lived in a garbage dump and sold snacks on the beach becomes a lawyer
By Thiago Varella of UOL with additional information courtesy of Gran Cursos Online
Ana Karla passed the bar exam before she even graduated
As a child, Ana Karla Nascimento Santa Ana decided she would be a lawyer when she grew up. The “certainty” came when she saw the judgment of the character Ruth, in the novela (soap opera) Mulheres de Areia (sandwomen). But, there was a problem. Throughout life, this native of the state of Espírito Santo from the city of Serra, in metropolitan region of the capital city of Vitória, heard from several people that “the black and poor don’t study law in college.”
However, she succeeded. Not only did she graduate in law, but before she even finishing her degree, at the age of 33, she passed the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB or Brazilian Bar Association) exam. But the path was not easy.
In fact, poverty has always been constant in the life of Ana Karla. Daughter of very young parents, as soon as she was born, she went to live in a garbage dump. The “richest” of the place lived in a wooden house, while her family was content with a canvas shack.
Throughout her childhood, she took on one occupation after another. With these changes, also came changes of school and missing school years. From 10 to 14 year, she didn’t go to school. She returned in the fifth grade and was able to complete what was then called the elementary school.
“During high school I had to work, my parents separated and my mother, who was a cleaning lady, took care of me and my two siblings, I ended up leaving school in the second year,” she said. “I was married at the age of 19. And the following year I separated (and) I found myself unemployed, without an education and with depression, because of the divorce,” she said.
The dream of becoming a lawyer grew even further. Ana Karla married again, with Sidnei Lima da Silva, and had her first child while working in a store. However, when she asked to change her schedule to study, he received an answer that marked her life. “My manager said that (the) black and poor didn’t study law. As college was not useful for the store, he fired me,” she said.
Ana Karla went to work as a babá (nanny) and resumed her studies in EJA (Youth and Adult Education) to at least finish high school. In 2010, with the help of her husband, she decided to take the Enem (National High School Examination).
One of her “guardian angels”, her husband Sidnei Lima da Silva, 32, earned between R$800-1,000 per month, which was used to pay for household expenses and to provide transportation and meals for his wife. “People said that couldn’t do it, but I always believed (in her),” he says.
One friend in particular, marked the trajectory of Ana Karla: university student Ruth Gonçalves. Before she entered college, Ruth gave her a job as a sales clerk at the store where she worked as a manager.
“And because I live near college, we met again. I helped her as best I could. Her humility drove her a long ways,” says Ruth.
“He stayed in the bus terminal taking care of our second child while I went to take the test. I scored well and I got three scholarships through Prouni (see note one),” she said. “I thought about pursuing pedagogy, since the black and poor didn’t do Law, but my husband convinced me to go after my dream,” she added.
Enrolled and studying Law at the Estácio de Sá University, Ana Karla had to sell candy at the bus terminal and empadinhas (small pies) at the beach alongside her husband to survive.
“I put a box in the shade of a chestnut tree and sold it right there. I got an internships, but the salary was low and it was worth it selling my things in the street,” she said.
In the last year of the course, Ana Karla, who is a resident of Nova Carapina, intensified her studies to pass the highly competed OAB test. She recalls that sometimes she would go to college at 8am and leave after 10pm.
“I studied until dawn, because the contents that I learned in college I reviewed at home. The books were borrowed from the library.”
Professor of Civil Law and coordinator of the Law course of Estácio de Sá School, Carlos Alberto Hackbardt, has only compliments for Ana Karla’s position. “She serves as an example for people to pursue what they want, instead of waiting for a kissed hand.”
Today, Ana Karla says she is proud to have her degree. More than that, before graduating she passed the OAB exam. She also had her effort recognized by Serra’s city council, receiving the Nelson Mandela commendation, an honor of merit.
Inside the house, the situation is still not comfortable. Sidnei continues to sell candy to city buses to maintain the family and studying to also pass the Law entrance exam. Ana Karla will start studying to enter a competition. Her future dream is to be a judge. For now, she’ll try public defender.
“Now, I have to study and get a job. Whatever, office or company, the door that opens I want to make the most of it, I’m going to try to be a public defender and, in the future, a judge, there’s still a lot of prejudice and discrimination. I will work against this,” she said.
1. The Programa Universidade para Todos (Prouni or University for All Program) is a program of the Federal Government of Brazil created with the objective of granting full and partial scholarships in undergraduate and sequential courses of specific training in private higher education institutions. It was created by Law No. 11.096 of January 13, 2005, when Tarso Genro was Education Minister of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva.