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FEATURE STORY March 8, 2018

Brazil: A Principal against Female School Dropout


Photo: Juliana Braga/Banco Mundial

School director Elizete Viana, from Tocantins, Northern Brazil, believes Education is a strategic tool to reverse this scenario and curb gender violence

Around 22 percent of Brazilian youths aged between 15 and 17 are out of school. Among girls, early pregnancy, child marriage and prostitution are the main causes.

As Principal of State Upper School Darcy Ribeiro, located at the municipality of Pugmil in the state of Tocantins, 51-year-old Elizete Batista Viana believes Education is a strategic tool to reverse this scenario. Supported by the Integrated Regional Sustainable Development project in Tocantins, and carried out in partnership with the World Bank, six schools - including Upper School Darcy Ribeiro - will adopt a program to raise awareness about gender, and physical, psychological or sexual violence.

Due to the school's proximity to federal highway BR-153, too many students were leaving school to turn to prostitution or other things. "With the gas station located near the school and so many truckers stopping at night, boys are attracted by the possibility of making money by passing 'the little black', a mixture of grease, on the truck tires to leave them shining, and girls end up prostituting themselves or fleeing with the drivers," the school principal explained.

As soon as she identified the problem, Elizete decided to act to curb dropping out of school. In addition to lectures on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), conducted by representatives of the local health unit, the headmistress decided to contact all of the students that left school and their families to persuade them to go back. "I often talk with the girls about the importance of graduating school, getting better jobs, earning their own money and not being victims of situations of violence," Elizete explained. But solutions are not always easy. Many of these girls belong to low-income families and answer back that they can't get out of abusive situations because they cannot afford living on their own. 

In addition to this, many girls are repeating the story of their own mothers, and believe it is natural to go through the same path. "Some girls are even pushed by their family to find husbands that can support them," she said. 

"My mother heavily depended on her husband, who was a rural worker. I saw her suffering and told myself that I did not want to have such a life"
Elizete Viana
School director

Elizete understands the reality that surrounds her, but strongly believes she can change things. That's because her own life was not easy. When she turned 14, Elizete had no financial means to continue studying. Her teachers joined forces to buy her the necessary school materials and keep her in school. Since then, Elizete has taken advantage of every learning opportunity she had. "My mother always told me that I should learn everything I could," she remembers. "I learned to read earlier than her. My mother heavily depended on her husband, who was a rural worker. I saw her suffering and told myself that I did not want to have such a life."

Now, as an adult, she knows that she can make a difference. "I keep hoping that they will return to school," she said. 

This school year, which began on February 22, started with good news: her efforts paid off and some students decided to return to classes. For them, Elizete organized a special program. "I talk to the teachers to assure them that these groups get more attention. We do not want them to be demotivated. We want them in school," she emphasizes. "Many times, I follow these cases closely, and talk to them regularly, always in a friendly manner, so that they understand how important it is for them to graduate."

For girls, Elizete has even more special advice: "You are able to become a strong woman, and to not be afraid to face what comes your way." More than a concept, it is empowerment in practice.

About the project

The Tocantins Integrated Regional Sustainable Development project aims to increase the efficiency of road transport - especially the state and rural road networks - and to support the institutional strengthening of five sectors: public administration, agriculture, tourism, environment and education. Although the project does not specifically include road works in BR-153, it aims to reduce the current risk of gender-based violence along the highway as part of the educational component of the project.