A MODEL SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN AT RISK: PROJETO UERÊ
“In 1980, influenced by my experiences in Africa, I began to work as a volunteer with groups of street children in the suburban “south zone” and the downtown of Rio de Janeiro. I decided to establish a ‘school’ without windows or doors on the street for some 200 ‘students.’ In 1993, a death squad of policemen cold-bloodedly assassinated seven children from one of my groups at night, while these kids were sleeping on the pavement. The atrocious murder came to be called the “Candelária Massacre” (named after the public square where the murder occurred; the square was these children’s ‘home’).
As I had to find a new place to teach the survivors, I opted for an area under a highway overpass in downtown Rio. This became our first “classroom.” In the first year under the overpass, children from a nearby „favela“ [Portuguese name for shanty town] also attended my classes. During the subsequent five years, my school functioned in these most inadequate surroundings, receiving over 100 street children a day. In 1998, my “school on the streets,” as I initially called my endeavors, evolved into the Projeto UERÊ (Project UERÊ), a non – profit institution and organization. The same year, a house was purchased to serve as the UERÊ premise,” writes Yvonne Bezerra de Mello in her article “Street Children and Children at Risk,” forthcoming in Mariginalizations: Dynamics of Injustice and Discrimination, ed. A. Colin, Editions UNESCO.
Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, an artist of note and UNESCO Award Winner, established Projeto Uerê in order to help street children and other traumatized children at risk from the slums of Rio de Janeiro, by providing them education, food, medical care, and shelter. Yvonne Bezerra de Mello personally helped and rescued over 1500 children from the slums of Rio.
In 1998, with one little house, very little money and a ‘team’ of four dedicated and purposeful teachers, UERÊ opened its doors to 130 children. Today, Projeto UERÊ attends daily 430 children with severe learning problems and disabilities caused by long-term exposure to violence. Since 1993, a total of 1020 children have received their education at Projeto UERÊ. Our teaching methodology proved to be successful. It helped re-habilitate children and return them to normal school life and curriculums,” underlines Yvonne Bezerra de Mello.