Their names are Mayandson, Mariene and Thaisa, aged 22, 24 and 21. Tonight they will present an analysis of a novel in front of their peers and the professor, an exam that will count toward their letter license in six months. They are not ordinary students and they do not study at an ordinary university. They are the first in their families to go to higher education.
At 18:00, which is the starting time of the 4-hour course, their work for a day is already behind them. Mayandson and Marien will go home at night. They live about forty kilometers northwest of Rio. Over an hour of chaotic bus ride.
Mayandson lives in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, a population of 15,000, where gangs of drug dealers battle local self-defense groups for territory.
“Sometimes I couldn’t come to my classes because there was shooting everywhere,” he says. The nearby district of Marien also lives under the control of the militia. These pockets of poverty have no title deeds, no clean water, and no legal electricity. Militias replace broken public services, lay cables, force residents to distribute gas cylinders. Heavily armed, they often waged urban guerrilla warfare that often resulted in deaths, including among residents. More than 4 million people in Rio suffer from the law.
Mayandson and Mariene traveled from one world to the other five times a week for four years to pursue their dream of becoming teachers. Taisa too. But his family lives 150 km away, too far to go back. Having received a scholarship, she shares accommodation at the university with seven other girls.
All of them benefit from the quota policies (race, low income) implemented by the left under Lula, which allowed hundreds of thousands of blacks, mestizos and low-income families access to higher education.
The Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, where they take their courses, applies this policy. Professions related to the countryside: veterinary medicine, biology, agronomy, animal breeding, etc. This school, which was established in the open field for the training of students, receives 30,000 students, of whom about 60% are admitted due to quotas. This university has also created a schedule of evening classes for young people who have to work for a living like no other. Finally, he expanded the scope of his subjects to the humanities (literature, philosophy, etc.).
But after Jair Bolsonaro came to power, the atmosphere changed. “It used to be a great honor for a family member to go to university,” says Marien. “Now they look at us questioningly.” The president’s well-oiled propaganda has convinced many families that universities, especially humanities departments, are breeding grounds for leftists and moral vacuums. So his obsession was to match them by drastically cutting their budgets. Most affected were federal public universities, some of which saw a quarter or even a third of their endowments disappear.
Cleo Manhas of the Institute of Socio-Economics says: “These cuts prevent the number of places, the replacement of teachers, the research projects, the increase of scholarships for a country that claims to have free thought.” Brazil.
At a time when 5 million students study in 200 universities of the country, the issue of education is one of the main issues of the presidential elections.
Despite their difficulties, Mayandson, Mariene and Thaisa, who persevere with their studies, fear Bolsonaro’s detention above all. Describing the quota system as “mistakes”, he wants to boost the private sector and encourage pressure on education from evangelical churches.