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Lar Escola da Criança de Maringá

Eleanor has been living and working in the city of Maringá (pop. 200,000 approx.) Brazil, for the past three months.

At the end of my street there is a big sports complex under construction. It is a monster of a project...masses of concrete and steel are taking shape; a symbol of the machine of economic progress currently driving Brazil. One man has claimed a small space alongside a massive concrete wall, between two pillars, and I see him there most mornings on my way to work and most nights on my return. He doesn’t seem to go far. It is a rare glimpse of abject poverty in a city that takes pride in occupying one of the richer areas of Brazil; as such escaping the worst of the social inequality that characterises the cities further north.

Brazil’s great contradiction is as follows: a democratically-governed country producing a range of consumer goods and achieving economic successes that are well beyond the reach of a large group at the fringes of society and the bottom of the wealth spectrum. It can be difficult to know how to approach this conundrum. Brazil is a huge country, facing problems on an equally massive scale; problems that are now well-entrenched in the current social reality. In Maringá, it is easy enough to ignore the unpleasant things lurking in the background...the city itself is adjoined by its poor cousin, the town of Sarandi, referred to as a “dormitory” city as it is home to poorer households who work in Maringa during the day. The Lar Escola da Criança in Maringá has chosen to open its eyes. Since opening in 1963, the school has been working to transform that reality for disadvantaged children in Maringa.

Local schools operate in two sessions; children attend either a morning or afternoon session, leaving the rest of the day free. Those from impoverished families will often spend the part of the day not in school in the street, without parental supervision, getting involved in dubious activities. “Lar” in portuguese translates to “home”. While the 300 children are divided into classes according to age and spend time in classrooms where art and craft or games are provided, the environment is less formal than a traditional school. Lunch is served every day; some children come from families that don’t have the means to provide enough food. There are approximately 30 staff currently, some who began as volunteers.

While the principal focus of the school is on the kids, the school recognises the importance of reaching out to their families and community. Projects such as “Tecendo a Cidadania” (weaving the community) providing free sewing classes for mothers, aim to develop professional skills that will help them to enter the workforce.

Thiago, director of the school at only 23, says that the principal challenge is funding. The school receives some private donations and holds regular fundraising events, but has little financial governmental support, despite being acknowledged in a recent research document put together by the local government of Maringa, investigating reform of poorer neighbourhoods. Encouraging the involvement of the private sector to ensure the sustainability of the project is seen as paramount. Some private companies already provide assistance such as free vision and dental checks for the children.

In a country like Brazil, where social inequalities are writ large, the sheer magnitude of the problem can seem overwhelming. It is inspiring to see a work in progress that is making inroads in one community, without losing sight of that larger reality.

The current strategic plan for the Lar Escola highlights a key objective as “the construction of another social reality and the defense of the right to the city”. Not a small dream by any means.

Eleanor Chapman is a graduate architect and a member of Architects for Peace.

For more information about the Lar Escola da Crianças and information about getting involved, see


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