By Agence France-Presse
Teachers in violence-wracked Rio de Janeiro started a new course on Monday — they are learning how to react to the shootings and violence plaguing the host city of last year’s Olympic Games.
Some 40 teachers attended the course organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and each educator will go back and instruct colleagues in their own schools on how to deal with a variety of violent incidents.
“It’s a question of knowing how to manage each situation — how to react during a shooting, for example. These are simple courses of action that can make a real difference,” said Lorenzo Caraffi, regional director of the ICRC in Latin America.
Rio has more than 1,500 public schools, a third of them located in areas deemed to be at risk from violence.
Since the start of the academic year, only seven of 120 school days have passed without at least one of the city’s schools being shut down because of outbreaks of violence.
Rio is in the grip of an increasingly bloody war between rival drug gangs operating in its favelas — the poorer communities that lack adequate infrastructure or police, but which are home to a quarter of the city’s six million inhabitants.
Residents can all too often find themselves pinned down by gunfire, especially when the quasi-military police force battles with gangs in pitched shootouts.
On Monday, as the first class on dealing with violence began, 18 schools were closed due to a police raid on the City of God favela, made famous in the movie of the same name by director Fernando Meirelles, who also orchestrated the opening ceremony of last year’s Olympics.
“The situation has really got much worse recently, so it’s important to have extra tools available to deal with these chaotic situations,” said Emiliane Tinoco, one of the educators taking part in the course.
Tinoco coordinates human resources for schools in Rio’s poorer northern zone where 13-year-old Maria Eduarda was killed by a stray bullet in her school on March 30.
“Teachers know from experience that when a shooting breaks out, you have to lead the kids into a corridor and lie down. But they often feel very alone when faced with these stressful situations,” she said.
The daily newspaper O Globo said that 632 people had been hit by stray bullets in Rio between January 1 and July 2, an average of three a day. Sixty-seven of them died of their wounds.
“We are not going to solve the problem from one day to the next, but we can’t just do nothing,” said Rio’s public schools chief Cesar Benjamin.
“Education is like Stalingrad — it’s the last bastion which must be defended whatever the cost,” he said, referring to the World War II battle in the former Soviet Union.