Students get opportunity to reach out while in classroom

Students get opportunity to reach out while in classroom

Cynthia Foster

Issue date: 10/11/07 Section: News
Professor Maria Schmeekle presented at the International Studies Seminar Series Wednesday afternoon in the Bone Student Center.

Media Credit: Andrew Benning
Professor Maria Schmeekle presented at the International Studies Seminar Series Wednesday afternoon in the Bone Student Center.

"All children are important and I am too" is painted on the wall of the building which houses Project Uerê in Brazil.

Project Uerê is an organization in Maré which helps street children. Project Uerê is one of the locations Maria Schmeekle, professor in the department of sociology and anthropology, visited during her six weeks in Brazil.

Schmeekle, during her presentation titled "Poverty, Children and Hope in a Brazilian Slum," shared information about her work with the street children in Maré.

Maré is one of the larger slums in Rio de Janeiro. According to Schmeekle, there are many street children in Brazil.

"Street children are children who either live and sleep on the street or who spend a lot of time unsupervised on the streets," Schmeekle said.

Schmeekle worked with 420 at-risk youth at Project Uerê.

Some of the programs at Project Uerê include mathematics, games, healthcare, art and music, according to Schmeekle.

Schmeekle said Project Uerê also offers a unique service.

"The day begins with morning conversation. Kids can vent about what is happening in their lives," Schmeekle said.

According to Schmeekle, there is a lot of violence and crime in the slums.

Schmeekle became interested in working with the street children of Brazil because of Yvonne Bezerra de Mello.

De Mello came into the public’s eye after the Candelaria [church] Massacre of 1993. Eight street children were shot and killed in front of the church, and other children were injured.

In the aftermath of the shooting, de Mello became the key spokesperson for the street children and Brazil.

"She is one of the greatest advocates for the street children," Schmeekle said.

Schmeekle said ISU students, faculty and staff, as well as the community of Bloomington-Normal, can become involved in helping the street children in Brazil.

Schmeekle wants to start a long-distance international service learning program at ISU. "Service learning is community service with an intellectual component in the classroom," Schmeekle said.

"Long-distance international service learning will allow service to people in need, in areas too inaccessible or unsafe for college groups to get to," Schmeekle added.

According to Schmeekle, technology is making it possible for students to help others in need who live in dangerous areas.

"The youth at Project Uerê requested help with learning English," Schmeekle said.

"We can support them by sending DVDs to help with their English conversation," Schmeekle said.

Other ways to help is through fundraising and raising awareness of the problem, Schmeekle said.

"We can assist in these active projects to make real changes in these children’s lives," Schmeekle said

Michael Schafer, a recent anthropology graduate who attended the presentation said students should be aware of this global issue.

"It’s important to learn about other countries, and see how you can make a difference," Schafer said.

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