Volume: 8, Issue: 2


The King of Children in Brazil
Новински Хэйберкорн, Таня [about]
KEYWORDS: Janusz Korczak, children, education, educator, NGO, pedagogy of autonomy, school.

ABSTRACT: This article focus on reporting the impact of Janusz Korczak´s work in Brazil. The pedagogical principles of Korczak like: justice, brotherhood, equal rights and obligations are put into practice with the challenges of educating children of the XXI century in Brazil.

About the Association history in Brazil

The Janusz Korczak Association of Brazil was founded in São Paulo on April 10, 1984. The idea of ​​creating the Association in Brazil came from Professor Josette Balsa, a founder of the Janusz Korczak Association in Geneva, Switzerland. The Association was very active until the year 2000. Due to various reasons, it had very little activities for the next decade. Then, in 2013, Ana Szpiczkowski, a professor from University of São Paulo, wrote a book The Orphans of Korczak (our translation), about her interviews with some of the ‘children’ from Korczak´s orphanage who were willing to share their memories. Suddenly there was a group of people who became interested in reactivating the Association under Ana´s presidency. A movement of a sort began, and new ideas and partnerships followed.

In this article I would like to share some of the amazing work that we have been doing since then in Brazil to continue spreading the ideas of love, determination, and respect to children and educators that we learned from Korczak and the people who worked close with him.

In 2014, after Ana Szpiczkowski moved to Israel, I had the pleasure to become president of the Janusz Korczak Association in Brazil. It has been a real challenge for me. I am probably the youngest member of the Association, and I needed to have a firm pulse and a good project. The Association was just coming back from many years of inactivity, and although its members were interested in continuing their work, there was neither a strong bond, nor a clear goal or money available in the near future.  

That is when I introduced the idea of developing an online course about the life and work of Janusz Korczak.  The members of our Association are academics and well-known professionals from different fields with many years of experience working with the ideas of Korczak.  In the beginning I experienced a little bit of resistance, but my enthusiasm and perseverance often work in my favor although at that moment, I had no idea how to put that into practice.

One morning I got a call from inviting Mr. Santiago to visit his NGO in Bixiga, a very central area of São Paulo. He was eager to learn about Janusz Korczak to make his Center more democratic, and to provide the children with more autonomy.  Paulo had a video production company before starting his work with the children from underprivileged backgrounds, and one of his goals was to provide such children with some professional experience in how to work with a camera and how to do editing, so when they reach the age to disconnect from the NGO they could have skills to survive in the world. I went to visit his institution and was quite impressed with his work and the energy, and happiness of the children. They were communicative and playful; they looked me straight in the eyes and asked many questions.

I told Paulo about the online project, and he immediately offered his skills and support to help launching the course. A very important partnership thus began between the Association and NGO Novolhar, which afterwards changed its name to Center Janusz Korczak/Nina Korall. Nina Korall was a member of the Association who was a Polish Holocaust survivor and the first person who told Paulo about Janusz Korczak. The Association worked closely with his educators so they could become more aligned with Korczak’s ideas and also to foster connections with people who could help him financially.

The “Centro Janusz Korczak - Nina Korall”: A “New Perspective” to the Future

The Center focuses on the information, communication, and the defense of the rights of 120 children between 6 and 15 years of age who come from low-income families — mostly residents of tenement houses in Bixiga — and with jobs in the central region of São Paulo.

The project’s goal is the development of the full potential of the children, and of their consciousness and cultural horizons. It also helps to realize a higher quality of education in Brazil through the creation of an innovative and interdisciplinary social technology, based on the Pedagogy of Autonomy created by Janusz Korczak.

Although Brazil is highly ranked in the world economy, a recent survey published by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, one of the most important in Brazil, points out that it takes four Brazilian workers to achieve the same productivity as a single American. This gap has been increasing, and it is close again to its peak in 1950, reflecting the low level of education in Brazil and the low number of investments in innovations and technology in the country.

According to the official data, provided by the All for Education Movement, published every two years to monitor the educational indicators in Brazil, the results for the years 2013 and 2014 showed that only 54.3% of 19-years-old Brazilians have completed high school. The same study found that among those who have completed, only 9.3% learned what was expected in mathematics and 27.2% of what was expected in Portuguese. This is because the Brazilian school system is from the 19th century, teacher education is from of the 20th century, and students live in the 21st century; the society has changed, so teachers and schools also need to change, because if the school is of poor quality, it will continue to be boring and just pretending to teach children the content that they do not want to learn.

The creation of the Center is the result of the experience of Novolhar, which for the last 17 years has developed serious strategies to combat social and economic exclusion through communication and art. The project also involves extensive outreach to the families and the community of Bixiga, valuing and enhancing the chances of success of this initiative. According to the entrepreneur Marcos de Moraes, “Novolhar innovates, daring to go through often hard paths, in search of greater results.”

The Centro Janusz Korczak/Nina Korall is based on three primary principles: Healthy Life, which is conducted by the biologist Maluh Barciote with a postdoctoral degree in Public Heath and Nutrition, Ethics and Sustainability by the University of São Paulo, Edu-communication, which is developed by the graduates, School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), supervised by Professor Claudemir Edson Viana, and Expanding Horizons and Citizenship, which is supported by the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and contributes to the development of our project of Protected Social Inclusion for teenagers above 14 years of age, seeking to include them in the labor market as apprentices in high quality companies.

In addition to these two major universities, we also have the support of professors and students from FGV-SP that give home economics workshops for children and their families, and also participate in preparing a Local Development Plan, which serves to monitor the development of our children and their families for a period of five years, following their performance in schools and the impact of our work in the life of this community. Professor Luís Carlos Merege, an economist who received his master and doctorate degrees from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of the University of Syracuse, NY, coordinates this plan. In 1994, he created the Center of Studies of the Third Sector (CETS) of FGV-EAESP, a pioneering initiative in Brazil focused on education, research, professional qualification, and support to Third Sector organizations, and serving as a model for other higher education organizations.

For seventeen years children and teenagers related to Novolhar produced the “Programa Novolhar na TV", which is broadcasted by “Canal Universitário” with the support of TV PUC. According to Gabriel Priolli, creator of the “Canal Universitário”, “it is a great honor for us to contribute support for the TV Show ‘Novolhar na TV’, a beautiful educative work, profound in social meaning,” is now going to create a Community News Agency which will use all of the potential of the new medias allied with the creative potential of the children.

Taking innovation as its starting point, over the last ten years, Novolhar conducted several audiovisual workshops within the units of the “Fundação CASA”, an institution focused on applying educational measures for young criminal offenders. These workshops were organized by two specialists working together - an audiovisual professional and a full-time psychologist. For this work, Novolhar received the Itaú Rumos Award, one of the most highly regarded for the third sector organizations.

Since the beginning, Novolhar is aligned with the concept of Educational Cities, using innovative education and developing external activities, such as “Expedição Bixiga”, in which children explore their neighborhood, searching for and learning about its principal points. This also allows to integrate the children within public schools around their neighborhood and private schools, such as, for example, Stance Dual, that is famous for its alcohol prevention programs for teenagers under 18 years old, and Lumiar, whose students conducted an Assembly at the Dom Orione Square to suggest changes and create a proper playground.

Due to this promotion of local development, Novolhar was chosen by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in the URBIS project in Africa, along with many other organizations from 11 countries, to find solutions for developing cities.

In three years, The Centro Janusz Korczak/Nina Korall will become a real educational laboratory, seeking to develop social technology that can be used in other public schools and institutions in the future. It will be comprised of a team of professionals from various fields of knowledge that will meet with the purpose to promote local development, primarily for low-income population of the central region of São Paulo.

“This will be our contribution to building a better world,” says Paulo Santiago, Novolhar founder.

Students’ Assembly at Dom Orione Square, São Paulo, 2015.

Paulo also contributed to the online course about Janusz Korczak talking about his experience as a director of a democratic NGO based on Korczak´s ideas.

Vaga Lume

Another member of our Association is Sylvia Guimaraes, founder and president of the NGO Vaga Lume. In the past she attended the Dutch-Russian "Nash Dom" camps and was inspired and challenged by them.

Vaga Lume was founded in 2001 as a result of three girls’ curiosity about Brazil.  It began as a pilot project in some municipalities in the State of Pará, completing its first stage in 2002, with a high approval rating.

Differently from exploratory or scientific expeditions, the initial purpose was to set knowledge exchange between Vaga Lume’s team and the rural population of the Legal Amazon: the team sought to learn about the life of Amazon inhabitants and leave them a contribution. This contribution would come in the form of a small library set, consisting of a bookshelf filled with books together with a formation of Reading Mediators.

The concept of knowledge, historically associated with enlightenment, was the driving force of this project, which by analogy received the name of Vaga Lume that means  “a firefly” in Portuguese.

Focusing on the “Brazilianness” and based on the curiosity for this continental country and its people, Vaga Lume has chosen the Legal Amazon region, comprised of the Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins States, and part of the Maranhão State to be its area of operation.

The Net Program: A fertile place to practice Korczak´s ideas

The legal Amazon is a region that corresponds to approximately 60% of the Brazilian territory, and its area goes far beyond the Amazon Rainforest limits, covering a wide range of coastal vegetation, compos vegetation, and cerrado vegetation. The Amazon is famous for its vast territory and natural resources, such as biodiversity, ore, wood and water, amongst others. The cultural wealth of the inhabitants of the region, often disregarded, was the main object of curiosity of the project. A cultural and educational expedition to teach and learn from the Amazon population -- that’s how the Vaga Lume Expedition Project came to life.

The Net Program is a network of educators, teens, schools, and NGOs in the city of São Paulo and communities of the Brazilian Legal Amazon region, mediated by Vaga Lume.  The program is an initiative of Education for Sustainable Development, carried out by means of an intercultural exchange with the theme, "We and Our Environment," which seeks to assist teens from the city of São Paulo and the Legal Amazon region to acknowledge the complexity of the Brazilian reality, their diverse cultures, and their relationship to the environment. As a recognition of Vaga Lume’s work, the Net Program attained the first place in the Prêmio Chico Mendes de Meio Ambiente (Portuguese for Chico Mendes Environment Award), which was conceived by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment in 2008. In 2011, it was ranked 4th in the Intercultural Innovation Award promoted by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW group. Due to this, in 2012, Vaga Lume became part of WIFI - World Intercultural Facility for Innovation, a network that brings together initiatives from all over the world which are aimed at building bridges between cultures to promote peace. With the support of BMW Group, Vaga Lume was able to bring 18 educators and youngsters of the Net Program to the United Nations Conference for the Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in June 2012. So far 18,000 children and teenagers, and almost 800 educators have taken part in the Net Program.

The Net Program is based on the autonomy of young people who become part of the project due to their interest in it. Participants reflect on themselves and on each other in a relaxed and creative way and led by educators, they can create jobs and develop social skills while learning about their country. The youngsters became the spokespersons of the exchange program and then present the results to the whole school community -- other students, parents, staff etc. It offers a new format of presentation, and invites the participation of students in a more interactive way, and encourages the community to participate in the school. The pedagogical concept of Korczak, the principles of justice, brotherhood, and equal rights and obligations are put into practice: distribution of tasks, incentives to autonomy, development of responsibility, and conversations reflecting everything the children wanted to debate (inspired by Korczak’s parliament and court); in this way, children develop the progressive ability to deal with feelings and conflicts.

Professor Sarita Sarue, another member of our Association, is an educator who teaches and writes inspired by Korczak’ s ideas. In her latest book Voices of Peace in War Times (our translation), she writes about Janusz Korczak and his relation with Judaism and Zionism. Through a meticulous analysis of correspondences, interviews, and other documents related to Judaism, Zionism, and the land of Israel, Sarita Sarue rescued Korczak’s vision of the Jewish question in an anti-Semitic Poland of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The documents she analyzed referred mainly to two trips that Korczak made to the land of Israel and included his personal impressions of this Land, as well as the difficulties of adaptation to his ancestral heritage and then his departure for good. Although Korczak intended to immigrate to Palestine with his children, he was not given any chance  -- as a victim of the Shoah, he was instead transported (together with the 200 Jewish children and the teachers of his orphanage), to the gas chambers in the death camp of Treblinka.

In Brazil, there are many schools and institutions inspired by Korczak’s ideas. Unfortunately, I don´t yet have enough knowledge to write about them in this paper. But I hope that in the near future and due to the release of the online course and many other initiatives, we will manage to create a dynamic network of institutions interested in Korczak´s work, and this will become the topic of my next paper.

Recommended sources

1 Novinsky Haberkorn, Tania, M.A., Psychologist and President of Janusz Korczak Association of Brazil.

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