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School On Stilts.

Artemisia is 14. But she is only in the second grade. Until two years ago, there was no school in this part of the Amazon rain forest.

Now, Artemisia goes to school every day. "I want to be a teacher," she says.

"So do I," say Roberto and Alda. Other students in the two-room school have the same idea.

"Teachers do not come up here," a student tells me. "It seems they enjoy cities too much. But we love our life on the river and want to remain forever close to our families."

The school, a small, two-room wooden cabin raised on stilts, is only 100 steps from the banks of the Igarape Gaspar (Igarape means "small river" in Portuguese), in Brazil's Amazon rain forest. The stilts keep the school above water during the rainy season, when the river rises.

The school might never have existed, if a European couple, Paul and Bianca, had not fallen in love with the area and its people. The couple gave in to the pleas of Artemisia's father, Valdemar. He asked them to stay and teach the oldest 8 of his 10 children, who range in age from 2 to 19.

Today Valdemar's children make up nearly half the students. He has persuaded other fathers to let their children go to school, too. Using wood from the forest, they helped build the school and a house for the teachers.

Valdemar drives the school bus--a canoe with a small motor--twice a day to fetch and return the children who live half an hour upriver. His wife cooks the rice that the children eat at 10 a.m.

Almost Like Disney World

To the children, coming to school is almost as much fun as going to Disney World. (Although they've never been!)

Never before have they had such an exciting diversion (activity). They don't know about electricity, television, or shopping. But, as good Brazilians, they all play soccer.

One morning, Roberto, 10, greets me with, "Hello, tapir."

"Why do you call me tapir?" I ask.

He smiles shyly. "The tapir is the forest's largest animal," he explains, "and you are the largest person here. [I'm 6 feet tall and weigh 185 pounds.] Besides, the tapir can change itself into thunder, and you laugh like thunder."

Like the other Indian children, Roberto has an intimate contact with the surrounding forest, and knows the animals and their habits well. In the evening, his family gathers around the fire, where they share the wisdom, legends, and stories of their people.

No Books?

Paul teaches Portuguese and math in one room, and Bianca, his wife, teaches art, geography, and history in the other. They use no books.

"We make our own," Deni, 15, says proudly. She sketches and paints every chance she gets.

Why doesn't the school buy books? Bianca explains that the trains, cars, skyscrapers, and computers pictured in regular textbooks would make no sense to jungle children. Besides, she adds, she wants them to learn self-expression.

"We sketch and write about our lives on the river," Deni says. "There's a lot going on here."

Bianca puts the children's pages together into books. She had one published in Italy and one in Brazil. The students are now working on a third book. Their sketches are also put on T-shirts.

The royalties (share of profits) from the sale of the books and T-shirts help pay the cost of running the school. Friends in Italy contribute additional money.

After completing the first four grades with Paul and Bianca, the children will go to Amazon towns to continue their schooling. Because of the distance, they will live with relatives or friends. The school will pay for their upkeep, since the children are poor.

What comes after graduation? Students who want to use their skills close to home-will have few alternatives. The best option is to become a teacher. That's a future Artemisia happily looks forward to!
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:school in Brazil's Amazon region
Author:Englebert, Victor
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Mar 26, 2001
Previous Article:BRAZIL Forgotten Giant.
Next Article:Women WHO LED THE WAY.

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