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Earlier this spring I returned from a ‘Partners of the Americas’ legislative fellowship in Brazil. The opportunity exposed me to the unfortunate human rights and education circumstances that Brazilians can face every day. Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet at MinnCAN, I thought I’d draw on some of the parallels between that experience and Minnesota. You might be surprised . . .

I’m passionate about the intersection of human rights, fundraising and public policy. So, I designed my fellowship around research of the funding climate for human rights and whether the government’s legal framework and public policies are conducive or corrosive to human rights. I investigated how human rights NGOs can more effectively mobilize the funding priorities of the national government and global philanthropic community–and diversify their revenue streams for sustainability.

I encountered a vast array of human rights issues, education among them. Through research and conversations with human rights practitioners and other Brazilians, I learned that Brazil faces many of the same challenges as Minnesota–including restricted access to high-quality education. The country presents a dichotomy of haves and have-nots. The haves of Brazil—middle and upper class, mainly white—attend private schools and mostly receive a great education. They obtain higher ed and move on to great careers.

For their part, the have-nots of Brazil—poor, primarily Afro-Brazilian and indigenous people—attend public schools that often don’t have the space or resources to educate everyone. And many of the kids who attend these schools are functionally illiterate–they don’t learn basic math or science skills, so they’re frequently relegated to low-wage work in the informal sector. The Brazilians I spoke with pointed to the low-quality public schools as the reason why the middle-class sends their kids to private schools.

The Brazilians offered different opinions about the backdrop of the stark achievement gap between the rich and the poor: low-paid and untrained teachers; misused public funds; personnel practices that reward absentee teachers. The list goes on. There’s also no shortage of ideas on how to reform public education and close this gap between the rich and the poor, white and indigenous, and white and Afro-Brazilian.

What’s certain is that Brazil has a long road ahead of it. Like Minnesota, it also shows much promise. And now back in Minnesota, I’m eager to leverage my experiences and passion for human rights to help close our gaps and enshrine the human right to education for all kids.


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