I hope I can accurately document my experiences in Brazil and share my knowledge with other educators. The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Project offers an extremely unique opportunity for a special educator. The need for both leaders and educators in special education to develop a global perspective of their field and an international understanding for policies and procedures abroad is imperative. Opportunities to learn from educators, government officials and inhabitants of countries promoting large education initiatives, especially those targeting students with disabilities and individuals who require alternative teaching methods, offer invaluable information about the country’s perception of special education, the disabled population, and what role culture plays in educating individuals with disabilities. Mutual understanding and learning amongst educators in this field is critical to the development of programs that will meet the unique needs of diverse populations.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The Indigenous People of Manaus (Manaus - Saturday, June 26, 2010)
After checking out of our hotel in Brasilia, we boarded a plane for Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon. The city was far different than I had imagined. It sits alongside the Rio Negro (the black river) and is roughly the size of San Francisco. Many buildings and boats reside along the shore of this enormous river. A carnival-like atmosphere, similar to that of popular beach cities in the U.S., entices many people to walk along the streets. Vendor selling popcorn, fried cheese, and corn invite people to purchase their products. Although June is a winter month in Brazil, the heat in the Amazon is sweltering.
Before our arrival we were warned to wear plenty of mosquito repellent. Confirmation of this warning didn’t take long. As we boarded the bus from the airport it was like entering a mosquito habitat. I quickly recalled the many diseases that were transmitted through mosquitoes in the Amazon… Yellow Fever, Malaria, Dengue Flu… We would stay in Manaus for 4 days and were told by our tour guide, a funny little indigenous man who met us at the airport, that our hotel was the largest in Manaus. Other than the fact that it eerily resembled the hotel from the shining, it was very beautiful. I was very pleased when entering our hotel lobby. The hotel was equipped with 3 restaurants, a zoo (yes a zoo!), an outside shopping mall, a jewelry store (H Stern- a world renowned jewelry store), and a swimming pool. Unfortunately, the internet connection was sketchy at best.
Our first day in Manaus included a visit to UFAM University (the Federal University of the State of Amazonas). We were introduced to Project de Sinal (Project English for Indians). Like the Afro-Brazilians, the indigenous people of Brazil have been discriminated against for many years. Their land has been encroached upon and their way of life altered. Many tribes, at the University, presented various aspects about their life and education system. One main theme was apparent throughout each of the presentations, all wanted a better life for their people and were determined to earn an education. The goal was to learn English, earn a degree, and return to their tribe with the knowledge they had gained in Manaus. The indigenous communities in Brazil had worked tirelessly to preserve their culture. They were trying desperately to collaborate with the government and express their wants and needs.
Students from the Tikuna, Tukano, Baniwa, Munduruau, Dessano, Bare, Marubu, and Satere tribes organized Powerpoint presentations and shared as much information as they could in English (they had only began English courses in March) and the remainder was translated by their English teacher, Jasmine, a 22 year old blond from Arizona. (Jasmine had received a Fulbright to teach English to indigenous students at the University for a year.) The first to present represented the Marubu tribe. He gave a very distressing and emotional presentation. He told us that many people in his tribe had died (including his brother) and are dying from Hepatitis D. He shared that his tribe had repeatedly demanded help from the government, but have been ignored. Hepatitis D is a mutated form of Hepatitis B, a form I had never heard of before. Hep B was a disease brought to the indigenous people by Europeans. It has mutated because of a lack of vaccines, and was now killing an entire tribe of people. Later, Marianna told us a story about how the some of the members of the tribe, who were dying of Hepatitis D demanded that they be brought to the capitol city of Brasilia to die in the government sector. The tribe collected 50,000 reais (the equivalent of around $30,000 to rent a plane and began their journey from Manaus to Brasilia. However, before the plane could land in Brasilia it was instructed by the government to land in Porto Velho, RO, a territory known for being very prejudice against the native population. They were not permitted to continue into Brasilia and the sick died in Porto Velho. They never received the media coverage or help they desired. Most of Brazil is unaware of both this incident and Hepatitis D. It is very sad!
I was both touched and outraged by each presentation. After each group had completed their presentation, we were given a gift. I received a beautiful necklace and earrings. We were then offered some of their traditional food and drink (acai berry juice) and given the opportunity to personally speak with the students. I spoke with Jasmine, their English teacher, she told me she was also teaching creative writing classes at a local middle school. I asked her if she would be interested in participating in our project and she was very excited.