RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Rio de Janeiro Military Police Cpl. Jefferson de Lima, 39, is greeted with applause and smiles by an enthusiastic audience.
He stands before 10- to 12-year-old fifth-graders at Henrique da Silva Pontes Municipal School in Senador Camará, a neighborhood surrounded by favelas on the north side of Rio de Janeiro.
Lima begins his lesson talking about self-esteem. He asks students to name a quality about the classmate seated beside them. The excitement is such that the uninformed might mistake Lima for an entertainer.
However, the police officer is there to discuss a serious matter: The importance of avoiding drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
The lesson is part of the Drug Resistance Education Program (Proerd), which is based on D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a program created by Los Angeles Police in the 1980s.
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Military Police created Proerd in 1992. Since 2002, the program has been implemented in the 26 Brazilian states.
“In some states, participation is limited, while in others, participation is even greater than in Rio de Janeiro,” says Capt. Antonio Lima, the program’s technical coordinator. “For example, Proerd in São Paulo reaches almost a million children per year.”
The program serves 30% of the public schools in the state of Rio de Janeiro, reaching 120,000 children between the ages of four and 12 annually, Lima adds. At the end of each semester, the program offers a graduation party for the children who officially become “Proerd’s partners” in the narcotics fight.
Participating in the program is voluntary for police officers. The most recent recruitment effort, in late 2011, was open to the entire Rio de Janeiro Military Police force and attracted 200 applicants for 30 openings.
After being selected, police officers are trained for two weeks and supervised during the program.
Currently, Rio’s Proerd has 150 volunteers.
Fifth-graders are the program’s main focus. Lima says students start being transferred to state schools at the sixth grade, where they face a new reality.
“The child will no longer have just one or two teachers, but they’ll have several. He or she rarely will receive the same attention as before,” Lima says. “During this time, there’s the risk of a friend replacing the teacher or family as a role model. You never know what kind of influence a friendship may have.”
Lima says there is no way to measure the results of program. But statements from teachers, school directors and parents confirm behavioral changes in children who have participated in Proerd.
“I run into adults who have been in my class and they make it a point to greet me in the streets,” says Lima, who has been with Proerd for 13 years. “We also have military police, officials and instructors in the company who are former students of the program.”
First Sgt. Francisco Claudio de Barros, Proerd’s supervisor in the Senador Camará neighborhood, emphasizes narcotics are readily available in the area and children must be prepared to say “no.” “
The goal is never to let the children get to the point of experimenting,” Barros says.
The program’s success depends on school and parental involvement, Lima says.
“The teachers need to reinforce the program by using the anti-drug theme in classroom activities,” he says.
Vera Lúcia Martins da Silva, Senador Camará’s school director, praises Proerd.
“The children learn to love one another, have responsibility and respect,” she says
Distance learning courses
Other programs also are reaching students in schools.
The Ministry of Justice’s National Anti-drug Agency (Senad), in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MEC), has created distance-learning courses to train public school teachers who instruct fifth- to eighth-graders to say no to narcotics.
“From 2004 to 2012, 140,000 educators were trained,” says Carla Dalbosco, Senad’s drug policy coordination and liaison director.
Dalbosco also highlights the “Diga Sim à Vida – Turma da Mônica” (Say Yes to Life – Mônica’s Gang) campaign that was launched on June 26 through a partnership with Mauricio de Souza Productions.
The project provides educators with booklets, videos, games and other anti-drug materials that star popular characters from Turma da Mônica (Mônica’s Gang).
“The project will be implemented in 14,000 schools per year, reaching around 2.8 million students,” Dalbosco says.
In April, the city of Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, partnered with Rio Grande do Sul’s Central Union of the Favelas (Cufa-RS) on the Circuito Papo Reto (Straight Talk Circuit) project.
The initiative aims to prevent crack use among public school students.
The project involves 3,900 teachers and 50,000 students and uses the “O Escudeiro da Luz em Os Zumbis da Pedra” (The Defender of Light in The Rock Zombies) book as its main tool. The material relies on child-friendly language to deliver an anti-drug message.