Somewhere along the line Teachers as heros was being discussed and then of course the topic of how teachers are undervalued in Brazil. (Reminder: in applying for jobs I was actually offered the incredible salary of R$5.00/hour to teach English to small children 5-10 years old in a private school. Double reminder: I have a Master's degree.) This then turned to the conversation about how large amounts of money are lost between the federal government and the schools due to corruption, which lead to the sharing of a recent news story that I was still unaware of.
One third of the Federal State Representatives, or deputados, in Rondonia were imprisoned yesterday, along with about 30 other government officials on corruption charges. What makes this story even more depressing is that they were stealing money from the STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH! Also, they weren't just stealing fractions of pennies like they tried to do in the movie Office Space (even that didn't go over as planned) they were stealing huge sums of money. It is estimated that the total that was funneled away from providing GOVERNMENT HEALTH CARE SERVICES is more than R$120 million (about US$70 million).
This all reminds me of how last week I went to the health clinic, posto de saúde, with a friend of mine who had stepped on a nail to get a tetanus vaccine. After waiting about an hour, she was told that she had to go to the Municipal Hospital (for a free shot) or stop by a pharmacy to pay for one, about R$50 since they were out. We went to the hospital, waited another hour only to find out that their normal supply was also out. Luckily since my husband ran into a friend of his (who is in charge of stocking the medications at the hospital... and obviously not on top of his job) he liberated the use of the emergency tetanus shot for my friend. Well, after spending about a half hour LOOKING for said emergency tetanus shot it was announced that the emergency tetanus shot was also out of stock. So, of course, we had to go to a pharmacy for her to get the shot, then of course since it was the day before a holiday, the only certified person to administer the tetanus shot was on vacation, so we decided to just try the posto de saúde in the small town where we were going to spend our holiday and hope they had a shot on hand. I wonder if these vaccinations were overlooked due to the missing R$120 million?
Anyhow, after discussing this story, we were stuck in the circle of problems that faces Brazil that looked like the following. (maybe I should have used Word instead of Paint... anyways...)
The education system is bad due to corruption (funneling of funds to personal accounts, for example) and the government continues to be corrupt because there is a lack of oversight by the people. The people remain uneducated on how to vote because 1) they are poor and are more worried about having rice and beans tomorrow than the new credit card interest policies, 2) because of the poor education system that limits individual productivity and lastly 2) because of corrupt political and economic system that is historically based on patronage and clientism.
A law student in my class summed it up when she said, "The masses just aren't educated enough to know how to find out what rights they have and even less educated to know how to use those rights." She has a point.
There are countless articles on how "poverty" has dropped drastically since the insane expansion of programs like Bolsa Familia, the topic of my Master's thesis and this article from the New York Times and this study by the IFPRI, but I still don't buy it. These types of programs, although they help to resolve immediate poverty (read: lack of cash to buy food) they have been overtly used as a pawn in the political sphere, which is the topic of this study written by two different research institutes in Brazil, one of which is the IBGE, the government statistics organization. However, with poverty such a pressing issue in every corner of Brazil (both rural and urban) what is the answer? If effective educational reform is made difficult by corrupt governors and the government assistance programs tend to just help keep people buoying between starvation and just getting by, what is the caminho certo to take? My students said they don't know what the answer is because every time corrupt officials are kicked out, such as what happened this week in Rondonia, just more will come and fill the vacancies. My soon-to-be-lawyer student says THIS is where education fails. The people aren't educated enough to know who to vote for... and are attracted by fancy Bolsa this Bolsa that programs. This is confounded by the fact that the vote is mandatory by ALL citizens in Brazil (and abroad for that matter). (Read: Vote-Buying) This argument of hers, I solidly agree with.
Is this new generation going to be the generation of change? Are these teens capable of changing a legacy of patronage, corruption and abuse of power? Or will they fall victim to the same trappings of political power? They are at least making some noise (see BBC article).
I think Brazil needs a hero. And this time, superpowers are required to apply.