Lilia Melo

Escola Brigadeiro Fontenelle, Terra Firme, Brazil

Lilia  Melo

Lília grew up in a disadvantaged area and from childhood wanted to contribute in order to reduce social differences. She found her path in teaching. Lília Melo teaches poor children in a deprived and often violent area of Belém, in the north of Brasil where murders, drug trafficking and rape are common. During her teaching career, several students were killed. In 2014 there was a massacre where some students attending classes lost their lives.

In order to help her students cope with the situation Lilia wrote a project entitled "Peripheral Black Youth From Extermination to Protagonism" about enhancing art in school and community.
She started to offer weekend workshops on drum, capoeira, dance, theatre, poetry, some in the school, some in the streets and squares, which formed links with the local community.
When she wrote in the local media about her students being too poor for tickets to see Marvel’s Black Panther, despite its positive and empowering message for them, local businesses joined forces and funded 400 of her students to make the trip.

From the collection of photos and videos that narrated the film event, the idea of producing a documentary later called “We by us” emerged and received several awards. Lília decided to reinvest the funds received in the purchase of equipment. They bought cameras, lenses and a new production was made by young students from the school called “Perspectives”.

Afterwards, debates helped to reinforce the film’s message and to reflect on the importance of representation in fiction. Eventually the students themselves became protagonists as universities, museums and companies became interested and got in touch in order to listen to the students and get to know their stories, extending invitations to host lectures. Instead of sitting quietly in an auditorium, students went there to be heard. This approach has now been widely disseminated and studied as Lília has won several awards for her work.

All of Lília's projects were carried out with little infrastructure and with little equipment. The school has significantly increased enrolment rates, the dropout rate has decreased, and the results of learning improved. Many of her students have become leaders in the field of arts, protagonists of their own history and an inspiration for their community.