In December 2003, SERTA, the Alternative Technology Service, a Kellogg Foundation grantee in the “Alliance with Adolescents” project came second in the 5th Itaú Unicef Education and Participation Award, one of the highest distinctions for the third sector in Brazil. The runner-up position, out of 1,834 entries, has secured the organization a prize of 70,000 reals (nearly 23,000 dollars). SERTA has been active since 1989 in Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, in the field of education, youth leadership, farming technology and family agriculture. Here, theologian and educator Abdalaziz Moura, president of SERTA, comments on the prize and the evolution and perspectives of the institution.
How important was the Itaú Unicef Award?
What’s most important is that it will open many doors for us. We’ve risen to a new level in negotiating projects and this will also raise the self-esteem and self-confidence of the people who work with SERTA. We have also established a relationship with the institutes that competed with us and we intend to maintain this communication to garner more clout.
Are partnerships with government essential?
Yes. Changes cannot be made by one type of player alone. They would be incomplete, limited and proven inadequate both culturally and historically. Real changes can only occur if they are implemented together by the business community, the State, social movements and local government.
What do you expect from the future?
Our aspirations for the future are for many schools in Brazil to adopt the same educational method that we use. It would have to become part of municipal and state education planning, via education directives in the countryside. This would restore the concept that every school needs to be free, by law and on principle, to decide what type of knowledge its community needs to steer its development. We can’t have just one didactic approach for all Brazilian states.
From the outset of SERTA, did you ever imagine this future for the institute?
No. To begin with, we only worked with one social player, the farmer, and we had few financial and human resources. But we soon realized that we needed to operate on other fronts, and we shifted our focus to education. In 1997, we did some very good work with Peti [Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, aimed at children working in the worst forms of child labor. Their families receive a grant for every child attending school. Longer school days ensure that they do not work after class]. We already had a rural education plan, and the municipalities were taken by surprise. We implemented the program in 13 of them, applying the concept of differential education. It was a chance for them to reform and the families had the opportunity to make changes.
What did working with the Alliance Institute represent for SERTA?
It was this project that attracted the attention of the Alliance Institute. This was a boom for us, because we never really had enough financial support to maintain an infrastructure and keep things running smoothly. We had to bend over backwards just to cope with all the demands that arose. These days, there are 80 of us and more than 1,000 direct beneficiaries and some 5,000 indirect beneficiaries.