Jardim Batam in verse and prose

Saturday, February 6, 2022

by Analder Lopes and Marcos Benjamin (pictures by Marcos Benjamin)


“Here comes our genius!” comments teacher Luci.

“Hi teacher, everything alright?” greets the boy, Ricardo.

“Yes, son, everything’s great! Today, before you do your exercises, I’d like you to write a poem to be published on the UPP Reporter website” asks the teacher.

“Now?!” he exclaimed, caught off guard.

“Yes, is that ok?” asks the teacher.

“Alright, I’ll try!” he says, accepting the challenge.

A piece of paper, a pencil and a little over 10 lines. This is all Ricardo Araújo de Lima, age 10, needed to write a poem to be published on our website, UPP Reporter. It was 2pm at the headquarters of UPP Batam. The silence in the classroom was noticeable. He was the only one in there. It was the last extra class of the year.

Back in 2008, Ricardo started writing poetry. A 4th grade student at Costa do Marfim Municipal School, he has already written ten stories, which, according to him, can be considered to be romantic, since they are always about love. The boy says that he discovered his talent when reading some poems in a book owned by his aunt. It was impossible for him just to read them, and so he started writing his own verses.


You are the moon that makes me shine,

You gave me the light, the earth.

It was you who gave me life.

You gave me breath

It was you who taught me how to walk

It is you I love

You have the scent of a rose


Você é a lua que me faz brilhar
Foi você que me deu a luz, a Terra.
Foi você que me deu a vida.

Foi você que me deu o fôlego.
Foi você que me ensinou a andar.
É de você que gosto
Você tem o aroma de uma rosa

The boy wrote the poem above in just tem minutes, whilst sitting in one of the room’s corners, close to the window. Every now and then he would stare at the horizon, thinking. . . focusing on what he was doing. Ricardo wrote the poem thinking about his mother, who, according to him, is his reason for living.

“I think about the people who I want to turn into characters, so imagine what they’re thinking, what they look like, what they love, how they feel. . . this is how I get inspired to write. Sometimes the poems are cheerful, because something good happened in the life of one of the characters. Other times they are sad, because a couple that was in love split up by mistake, because someone set them up or because the timing wasn’t right, for example. But I like happy endings, so as the story goes, I try to solve all the problems, to get people to find each other again, so they can be together in the end and live happily beside their loved ones,” he explains.

Those who witness how easy it is for the boy to invent characters and write stories would never imagine that he wasn’t doing well in school. Ricardo got a C – in the subject he should have done extremely well: Portuguese. But that is about to become ancient history, now that the boy has swapped his afternoons of playing in the street for extra classes at Jardim Batam’s UPP. He guarantees that he doesn’t regret his choice; after all, his efforts are already paying up.

“Today I don’t spend as much time in the street playing or flying kites, because I have to study for the extra classes. On the other hand, my grades have already improved. Now I have a B – in Portuguese. My teacher gave me congratulations and asked if I was studying more at home, because I was doing better in my exams. I have a hard time focusing on things, so if I had to do it alone, at home, the results wouldn’t be this good,” he says.

A new reference

Ricardo and 40 other children from the community located at the Realengo district, Rio’s west zone, are having the opportunity to do better in school because of the extra classes, a social project developed at the community’s UPP in a partnership with local volunteers, like Ana Lúcia da Silva, who has been teaching at a private school for nearly ten years. She has experience in teaching children from 10 years old onwards, as well as adults, having worked at the Youth and Adult Education program (EJA). Ana Lúcia tells us that the children from the community are not the only ones benefitting from the project, but also some of their cousins, who are coming to take the extra classes. She wishes to give them a better future through education and good examples.

“I want these children to have a reference, and I intend to be this reference for them. I strongly believe that by investing in their potential, by showing them the good options, we will make them citizens with promising futures. We will have young people studying more and more, looking forward to and trying their best to get into higher education, because they’ll be aware that studying is fundamental if you want a good job. This way, they’ll have other options in their lives. The people here in Batam have been through tough times. Not long ago the neighborhood was run by criminals and they were the only reference these children had. Before the police occupied the community, even the social projects were jeopardized. There was a time when we had a percussion band similar to Olodum, but many participants lost their lives to drugs. This is why I say that their idea of a successful person was the drug dealer. After all, they were the ones with money and power, even though that power was granted by the machine guns they held in their hands. Many girls wanted to live with the criminals; there used to be a dispute for the position,” she stresses.

Examples of people who decided to help the social projects developed by the police are not hard to come across. They are people who realized that things are different now, and so they can make an effort to show these kids that there are other references in life. They work hard to change the children’s values. The memories of many deaths among teenagers from the community who got involved with the traffic is what stimulates volunteers like Ana Lúcia, Luci, Tatiane and Silvane. English and Portuguese teacher Luci dos Reis Barbosa, for example, contacted the officers in charge at the UPP and made herself available to help with whatever they needed to follow through with the project.

A lesson of trust

One of the challenges faced by the officers and teachers was to get the children to go inside the company, because the community spent too many years living the pressure of being controlled by militias, which made the children scared of and resistant to the officers. In the beginning, the difficulty was to win their parents’ trust, fort they were scared and fearful of sending their children to study inside the unit. Little by little, though, parents realized that the intention was to help the kids with learning difficulties. Thus, classes started with 10 students, in March 2009. Today there are 40 students.

Teacher Luci was born and raised in Batam. She has memories of the community when it was still placid and the lifestyle was that of a countryside town. Luci says that she would climb the mango trees and jackfruit trees, which were abundant in those times. But with the rapid growth that the place underwent, the residents lost not only the trees, but also their tranquility.

“Many drug dens appeared out of nowhere and started functioning at our community, the traffic installed itself and fear took over the lives of the residents. My children had a very different upbringing then mine. They had to be inside all the time, because the squares and the streets weren’t safe. Nowhere was safe. I’ve always worked all day and I was scared to let them go out by themselves. The residents of Batam became prisoners of the gangs that ruled the community. I’ve met boys who entered this life of traffic and were subject to the consequences that this lifestyle brings. In most cases it cost their lives. Afterwards we became prisoners of the militias, and we didn’t know who we feared the most: the police or the criminals. Some people thought we had peace, but this was a false impression. We had to pay too high a price. They would come by our houses, knock on our doors and give us orders, telling us that we had to do this or that, everything exactly the way they wanted. They thought they owned people and so they tried to intimidate us. We went from being intimidated by the traffic to being intimidated by a paramilitary group,” she remembers.

Luci, who has two children –  a girl of 19 and a boy of 17 – both of them also born and raised in the community, says that she is witnessing the peaceful days of her childhood returning to the community. She told us that recently her son called her to say that he was still out, and it was close to midnight. He knew she would be worried, so he called to say that he was having a sandwich with his friends. Luci says that she is happy he will have the opportunity to experience the things someone his age should, like staying out a little late, which would be impossible not long ago.

“Recently I heard something very nice that made me understand why this project is doing so much difference in their lives. A 10-year-old student said that he wanted to be either a nurse or a police officer when he grew up. This means that today not only they want to have a profession, but also that he wants to serve the community, to be an officer. So their references are already changing. This makes me thrilled because before we started the project they didn’t have good references, but this is changing. They want to be police officers, to have professions. This happens because of the examples they have now, like the swimming teacher, who is a police officer, but also a graduated professional in physical education,” Ana Lúcia concludes.


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