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Life-changing training project goes national in Brazil

Two women reading
Maria Aparecida Batista Marinho, left, and Marta de Lima, right, both participants in the Mulheres Mil program, putting their new skills to work while reading a book in the library.
    A small Brazilian village
A typical small Brazilian village in the North and North-East where the original 1000 Mulheres Mil live.
   
Marta de Lima shows off some of her recent handicraft creations
Marta de Lima shows off some of her recent handicraft creations, which she will sell using the skills learned through Mulheres Mil.
   

Maria Aparecida Batista Marinho is the first in her family to overcome illiteracy.  A housewife and student at 37, she dreams of becoming a teacher and serves as an inspiring example for her 5 daughters. She is not alone.
 
Maria is one of one thousand Brazilian women who participated in Mulheres Mil ("Thousand Women"), a program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and co-managed by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) and the Brazilian Ministry of Education.  This relationship between Canadian and Brazilian partners has helped some 13 federal technical education centres in Brazil develop better tools, techniques and curricula for disadvantaged women. This, in turn, better prepares them for entry into the workforce.

"It is horrible to be illiterate; it is the same as being blind.  I was blind and now I can see."  -Maria Aparecida Batista Marinho

So successful has this project been that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently approved it as a national program, with a goal of training 100,000 women by 2014.  To do so, Brazil has committed nearly CAD $6 million over the next 3 years. Brazil also aims to take the Mulheres Mil program to Mozambique, making it a joint program between Canada, Brazil and Mozambique, with funds from the World Bank.
 
Mulheres Mil was born out of collaboration between Brazilian and Canadian colleges and professional associations to offer training for chambermaids in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte.

Notwithstanding this simple beginning, the program's aims have been anything but modest.  One of the main priorities of the training is to develop a sense of self-esteem and confidence in the women participating – some of whom feared working on a computer, writing on the blackboard, or even being asked to write their own names. In contrast, today, the sense of self-worth of so many of the participants is remarkable, as are their contributions to their communities.
 
Vera Lúcia Francisca da Silva, one of many women who have benefitted from the program, used to think of an education as something above her.  "Now," she says, "I see that I am capable of studying, that I can pass any test I want, that all it takes is to believe in oneself."
 
Brazil has now taken up full responsibility for funding the nationalized and greatly expanded Mulheres Mil program, with a goal to deliver technical training in 366 institutes in all of Brazil's 27 states. Canada remains a key partner in the program and continues to provide training to teachers and to customize Canadian processes and best-practices.

"We were transformed through our work with our dedicated and energetic Brazilian colleagues and look forward to many more years of growth in our institutional exchanges,” said ACCC's Vice-President Paul Brennan. “In the end, this will prepare us better for our shared global challenge: providing accessible education to all."
 
Canada's Ambassador to Brazil, Jamal Khokhar, affirmed a similar sentiment.

"We share a vision of a world where women from all segments of society are empowered with education and are gainfully engaged in their communities,” he said. “Together we can share lessons learned and explore future directions for national and international action to support this goal.”

Brazil has made tremendous strides in alleviating poverty, halving poverty rates in the last decade and reducing income inequality to a historic low in 2010.  But, there remain approximately 16.3 million people, or 8.5% of Brazil’s population, still living in extreme poverty (on less than CAD $40 per month) and some three quarters of these people live in the North-East including a disproportionate number of female-led households.

Initiatives such as Mulheres Mil can help continue this progress as Canada and Brazil work together to change lives for the better.

>> Read and share more stories about Canada’s activities around the world - follow Eyes Abroad

 

All photos by Yannick Cabassu

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Date Modified:
2012-02-08