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Maria Cecília Lins began teaching when she was 17, mostly in private schools. But while she was in college, she started work at a daycare in a vulnerable community and was struck by lightning. Suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that she wanted – and still wants – to be a part of the transformation of an unequal society into something else, she quit private schools never to return. And a new challenge presented itself to her: not having been raised in a vulnerable community such as the ones she would dedicate her life to, she would first have to learn how to read the room. “The first rule of working in a community is acknowledging that you know nothing about communities”, she says. She learned to watch, listen, and learn from others.


The Instituto Pró-Saber SP (Pro-Knowledge Institute) she founded is a 17-year-old offspring of the original one, founded in Rio de Janeiro, by Lins’ mother, over 35 years ago. “In our family, education has always been a political tool for transformation”, she adds. The São Paulo branch is rooted in Paraisópolis, an extremely vulnerable and large community, where it holds a children and youth library that promotes a “reading boot-camp”, with three hours of storytelling daily for the local kids. These days, she’s stepped back from teaching and gone into management of the institute, which hires 35 people and prepares local high school students to become multipliers in this ecosystem she created. They support families and children with difficulties in school and in 2019 they were awarded a national prize as Best NGO in the Southeast, crowning a lifetime devoted to education. “We champion playtime as a child’s civil right.”


So, when Lins joined the Fellowship Program at Avenues São Paulo, the institute was “at a more mature stage” than the other organizations and fellows in the room. And she found this “exhilarating, a boost of energy, a delight. I recharged my batteries from this life force that is the desire to promote social transformation while, at the same time, I could see myself in them, in their drive. Also, I’ve been working in the same neighborhood for almost two decades, so it was of great value to expand to other areas. I love the idea of building bridges, of listening to others.” Which is precisely what the city – and the world – desperately needs. All of us do.




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