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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Present Day Indigenous and Europeans from the Past (Manaus - Tuesday, June 29, 2010)

Urban Indigenous Community (Tikuna)

Amazon Theatre (Opera House)

Fish Market

Today we visited a group of Tikunas, an urban indigenous community, who moved to the city of Manaus in search of a better life. Originally the Tikuna tribe thrived along the Amazon River, but many have died due to disease. With the death of the Tikuna people, their language and culture is slowing dyeing as well. Entering their community a pungent smell filled the air, make-shift houses with hammocks as beds lined the streets and barefoot children scampering about could be seen in all directions. We were led to a small concrete building and told that this was both the community’s school and a center in which the community gathered for various events. Indigenous women filled the entrance scattering hand-made jewelry, purses, and crafts along the tables. Plastic chairs were distributed in the remaining space. We all took a seat waited patiently for the teacher to begin his presentation. Smaller, child-sized, replicas of the plastic chairs were distributed in the front for the children. Many of us brought different items for the children. I gave each child a pencil while Laura, a University professor who taught in Hawaii and was originally from Argentina gave each child Hawaiian stickers.
Soon the teacher introduced himself and welcomed us. He told us his goal was both to educate the children and preserve the Tikuna culture. He explained that many of the children born in the city had never seen native Amazonian animals. He told us he took them to the zoo to see the animals that had once lived closely with the people of the tribe. The children sang a beautiful song in the native Tikona language. We were then told stories explaining native customs and heritage. We were told about marriage customs and an elder woman from the tribe presented us with a large black plastic bag. She removed a mask and dresses and began to place them on two young girls from the tribe. She explained that this was her granddaughter’s ceremonial wedding dress. The group then began to demonstrate the traditional dance done during the ceremony. It was clear that the tribe yearned to share their customs, stories and traditions with others. We each received a children’s book, created with UNESCO, used to recount a native story detailing their heritage and customs. They were proud and searched for understanding and acceptance. It was beautiful! Later I learned that when an indigenous community entered the city they were no longer considered indigenous and received no help from the government. While this makes absolutely no sense to me, I feel this made their attempts to give their children a better life in the city even more brave and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been better for this group to stay on their native land. Had they been pushed from their native land? After the presentation, we were given time to purchase the jewelry and crafts, and explore the community. A women cleaned fish in a small shop and fruit hung in wooden stands. Yellow and green streamers hung in the streets in support of the Brazilian football.
We were again loaded onto a bus, ate lunch and taken to the center of Manaus to view the opera house. As we approached this magnificent building and the beauty that surrounded it I realized that the atmosphere that surrounded this section of Manaus completely juxtaposed the community I had seen only an hour earlier. The sidewalks were made of beautiful black and white stone that mimicked the waves of the ocean. Beautiful European colonial buildings and statues surrounded the Amazon Theatre. It was brilliant! As we entered the opera house, beautiful paintings decorated the walls and ceiling. Magnificent chandeliers decorated each room and gorgeous wood floors shimmered against the gold accents in the walls. It was very similar to the churches, opera houses, and buildings I saw when traveling in Europe. We learned that European settled in Manaus during a large rubber boom in the late 1800s. They used the rubber trees in the Amazon to make large fortunes. This settlement became the capital of the state of Amazonas. Indians were captured and used as slave labor to build the opera house. Many of the materials were shipped down the Amazon from Europe to build the opera house. Around 100 families lived in the community and sent for some of the best entertainers in the world to perform. Ultimately, it became the last stage that many performers would present upon. Many died from diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria and never made the journey back home.
I stood on the balcony and tried to imagine this superlative structure buried in the heart of the Amazon. Wow!
We made a quick stop at the fish market and ended the day with a visit to the Ministry of Education in Manaus. We were told that they are currently focusing on Project Pirayawara, a teacher training project for indigenous schools. They are offering inservice training and developing textbooks for different indigenous tribes. They currently have 20 centers that offer training to indigenous teachers. The challenges they are facing include the size and geographic area the tribes live in. Many of the tribes are difficult to reach and building schools in these areas is even more difficult. Language is also a barrier as well as hiring practices. Tribes choose their teachers and each teacher chosen is one from the tribe. Teachers are honored within the tribe and all members must agree on the selection. I asked about special education and was told that they did not have adequate training. Most students with disabilities stayed home and received no schooling.

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