Saving hope for Brazil

Tamy, why did you choose to do your master’s degree in Japan?

My dream is to work for the Brazilian Ministry of social development and hunger combat, and thus developing programs to help the poor people in my country. Because of this, I want to have the best education possible and a development of an open mind. Of course there are good universities in Brazil, however studying abroad gives me the opportunity to meet people from different countries and to develop myself. Furthermore I wanted to study at a specific University in Japan, Soka University, that reflects my own values of humanity as Buddhist. And of course, the family on my father’s side is Japanese.

So it is like going back to your roots for you?

Yes, it is quite like that. Anyway, it is going to be a huge challenge for me, as the program is entirely taught in Japanese, and I’m still at the beginning of learning. That’s why I arrived one year before my master’s program starts – to begin studying Japanese and being able to do my whole study in Japanese within one year.

And what exactly are you going to study in Japan?

My master study will be ‘Public Policy’, with a focus on poverty studies. During this study I want to continue the research I did in Brazil. I want to compare my country with another country that has a same profile to the one in Brazil and take a look how they cope with poverty and how they want to change it.

So what was your research in Brazil?

I studied the whole development of an assistant social system from 1988 until nowadays. The program is called ‘bolsa família’. It is developed to give money as social assistance to poor families. In my study I tried to trace the use and the value of this program, because it often was criticized for being vulnerable to corruption.

And what was the result of this program?

On paper it is a really a good program, but unfortunately, in reality there really is a lot of corruption leading to money being embezzled and information being obscured. However, even with the problems the program has, it still helps people for getting more opportunities in their lives. It is the small things that people don’t see, which are actually the most important steps: simple things like being able to buy presentable clothes for a job interview, so people can try to improve their own standards of living. I really think the idea of this program is amazing, it just needs to be updated.

Could you describe the Brazilian politics a bit more?

Brazil really is crazy about politics. Nowadays the main party is the workers party, called PT– well, it used to be the workers party, but the party began to sell itself to companies and made agreements with others parties to keep in power. Furthermore, there are more than 20 parties in Brazil, it is a huge mess! The problem about it is that all of the right parties are beginning to gain more and more power again. That is also a reason why there are a lot of protests in Brazil nowadays.

So you think the origin of poverty lies within the political system?

You know, Brazil actually is a rich country. It is the 5th biggest country in the world. We have a huge area of cultivatable land, we can produce a lot of things, and companies are investing in Brazil. Anyway, in pure monetary numbers it is rich country, but the problem is that this money is concentrated within ten percent of the population. Equality in Brazil is just horrible.

What do you think is it that hinders equality that much?

Well, there is an aspect of Brazilian temperament that we call malandragem, a certain kind of nepotism. People who are in power are using this malandragem in a selfish way, not thinking about the others and only seeing their own profit. That is why corruption is horrible in Brazil. It is located in every structure, even in the government. But not everything about malandragem is bad, it gives Brazilian people hope to change their own situation with through own power and contacts. And it is still part of Brazilian identity.

Although you’re now in Japan to do your master’s degree, do you still think it was important for your study to have done your bachelor’s degree in Brazil?

Of course it was important to do it Brazil. It helped me understand the minds of the Brazilian people and network with people who had the same intentions than I do. However, I wasn’t in Brazil the whole time. I also did several exchange programs to have a look at the social systems in other parts in the world.

Where did you go with your exchange semesters?

I went to London for four months and to Spain for six months. It was good to see other countries and their cultures – it helped me open my mind. I met different cultures and religions, but no matter the color, the religion or anything else, I got to understand that every person is just a human being, just like you and me – with the same feelings, insecurities, and dreams. It helped me respect differences among people. That is why I like to go to other places, like for my master’s degree. I want to learn more about different kinds of people, and in return, something about myself.

Did you also learn something more about poverty in the different countries?

Well, every country has a different manner of coping with poverty. For example, poverty in Brazil is obvious, there are favelas everywhere. Anyway I didn’t get to see a Japanese favela until now. Of course there is poverty, but it still seems to be quite different than the one in Brazil. In Japan the system protects you and is going to help you in case of extreme poverty – in Brazil they don’t. Concerning these things, the infrastructure for helping poor people in Japan is way better than the one in Brazil.

Would it help Brazil to adapt the Japanese system?

The problem is, the size and population of Brazil is much bigger than the Japanese one. Brazil is just too huge.

Do you think there is a difference between Brazilian and European poverty?

Well, I don’t think it is that common in Europe to see families living on the streets and only having 50 dollars a month to survive. Close to my house in Brazil, there is a favela, so when I am home, I see children and families on the streets every day. The worst about their condition I think is that they are hopeless and don’t have any perspective. It is a life without having dreams. It is not only a material misery, but a human misery as well.

How was it for you to grow up near to a favela?

I was born in a poor city, so it is quite normal that you can see favelas and poverty everywhere. But people from favelas are no bad people. They are normal people, just poor.

Did you have any chance to have insights into the Brazilian system during your study?

Yes, I did several internships and had to work after my graduation to save money for my master abroad. It was a small company about market research, so unfortunately nothing that really has to do with my future goal. Usually most of my fellow students of sociology began teaching in Brazilian schools. But working there is really horrible, the payment is worse than being a waitress and students don’t respects their teachers. The Brazilian system just neglected the educational infrastructure for too long and never invested in it.

So how did you experience your own school education?

I studied in a private school, because public schools are just horrible in Brazil. You don’t learn anything. Anyway, private schools aren’t much better. If I wanted to have more education than the one offered by my school, I had to do it by myself. That is why I always studied a lot after school.

And when did you decide to study sociology and fight poverty in Brazil?

Well, it started when I was a child. I read in a Buddhist magazine about my Nichiren Buddhism branch called Soka Gakkai International, which I and my family are a member of. It was about the values of becoming a human being, about being a global citizen, and that reality is not the limit. This really inspired me a lot. It really made me want to change the whole world and make it better. After I started then with my study of sociology, I fell in love with this study. I learned a lot about politics, culture and anthropology, and it was truly what I wanted. It helped me learn how to make a difference.

Your religion seems to be very important to you?

Yes, because it teaches me how a human change can affect the whole world. If I want to make a change, I need to begin with myself first and be a better human being. It is because I cannot change any other person. I cannot change their hearts, I can only change myself. And by doing this, I hopefully affect and inspire other people.

And what exactly are your plans after you have finished your study in Japan?

I want to go back to Brazil and want to work for the government, in particular the ministry of development and poverty. If I want to change poverty in Brazil, I have to be in its heart, thus the government.

Imagine you were already working there. What would be your first actions?

I want to be a nodal point for the poor people and the government. I want to be the contact person and observe the origins of poverty in order to fight it better and to help improve the different programs the ministry offers to poor people.

Do you think Brazil needs more “heroes” that want to improve the system?

Actually, there are a lot of people, they are spread all over Brazil. It is especially the younger generation who wants to make a change. The main question is if everybody keeps up working or just gives up. We see so many problems every day that people get frustrated and give up.

And you will go on?

All my experiences until now, and my studies abroad will make me stronger, and when I go back to Brazil after I finished my master’s degree, I will be an even stronger person to face these problems and work hard on solving them.