A visit to the student movement in Santarém

This week we had the honor of meeting leaders of the impressive student movement Pact for Education in Pará, who have been monitoring school lunches using Promise Tracker over the past several months. The movement was born in October of 2015 out of the youth citizenship initiative, Project SOL. After a history of disparate organizing on the school-level, students from 14 schools in Santarém joined forces to bring critical concerns about school conditions to the Public Prosecutor’s office. They were received by the local prosecutor and have established an ongoing dialogue to address issues including school repairs, security, access to library and laboratory spaces and school lunches.

On Tuesday we landed in the city of Santarém, Pará, where the blue and clay colored waters of the Tapajós and Amazon rivers meet. In an auditorium made available by the Public Prosecutor’s office, we gathered a group of 23 high school students and teachers from 5 public schools across the city to learn about their organizing strategies and how data collection has impacted their work.
During the session we facilitated a series of activities to explore participants’ conceptions of data, map out key actors and allies in the school lunch issue, understand the range of tools the group uses in organizing, and analyze the results of the Promise Tracker campaign to date. In addition to sharing some of the technical challenges encountered, students discussed how to improve the structure of questions to make the campaign easier to use for students and data more intuitive to interpret. Following the workshop we visited 3 of the schools represented to check out first hand what students are being served and see the conditions in which food is stored and prepared.

In addition to tracking what is being served, students were increasingly interested in exploring some of the underlying issues that have contributed to school lunch issues, including irregular and incomplete delivery of supplies, lack of refrigeration to store perishables, shortage of cafeteria staff, and challenges with pest control in stock rooms. Over the next few weeks the group will be refining the existing campaign and piloting additional data collection initiatives to monitor incoming ingredients and supplies.

It has been inspiring to see the energy and incredible dedication of both the students and teachers that have transformed disparate frustrations about school conditions into this vibrant and organized collective. We feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to work alongside groups like this to explore the relationship between new technology tools and social organizing. A special thanks to Eliana Mara for taking us under her wing in Santarém and for her untiring investment in the life of young people throughout the city. Over the past 20 years she has taught and mentored over 15,000 students in Santarém and it was a pleasure to be able to witness some of the impact she has made on these individuals and their communities!

We look forward to returning to Santarém this winter to follow up with students and discuss their progress. See below for local press coverage of students’ work on this issue to date: