A butterfly effect: How English School’s WhatsApp classes contributed to research on mining and indigenous rights in Brazil

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Adriana, who is based in Brazil, studies transitional justice and the impact of mining companies on indigenous people in the Amazon. When she came to Cape Town to compare the findings of her research in Brazil with indigenous people from Southern Africa, she realized that her abilities in English were hindering the research. This realization led her to Scalabrini’s English School  – which opened up her world to the melting pot of South Africa.

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When Adriana arrived in Cape Town, she only knew basic greetings and how to say ‘thank you’. Like many people in South Africa, English was to be her third language. “I was born close to Venezuela, so for me, learning and speaking Spanish was easier. It is similar to Portuguese. English is different to other languages and is difficult to learn.”

English is not a common language in Brazil and is mostly spoken by the younger generations. Language has been an important part of Adriana’s research. “When Brazil was colonized, it was forbidden to speak other languages. Even the indigenous people in Brazil cannot speak their indigenous languages. There are 174 different languages in Brazil. Only the indigenous people who live inside their own tribes speak their indigenous languages…In South Africa, people speak their own languages. It’s not like this in Brazil. If these people die, we will lose those languages.”

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Adriana and her family lived in Cape Town for two years.  In the beginning this proved difficult because of the language barrier, but through her lessons with English School, Adriana improved her English abilities enough to be able to communicate easily. “[speaking English] provided me with the most important thing that I need – to speak to people and understand. I am not scared about talking to people anymore. Before English School, Adriana was very shy to try and communicate in English, but she now has the confidence to use the language

English School helped Adriana build on, not only her speaking skills, but her writing and reading too. “Because of that, I was able to contact people across Africa. I now have a group of people that I discuss all the readings of different genocides with, as well as my other findings.”

Adriana has found both similarities and differences between the indigenous populations in Southern Africa and Latin America. “Across the world, there has been a refusal to recognise the crimes against humanity {with regards to indigenous populations}.” Adriana has found similar practices in Africa and Latin America with the “illegal appropriation of labour, lands and resources from the communities.” The differences are centered around reparations. Where in Latin America, the judicial process is looking at individual reparations, the African concept – in some countries – “is about collective reparations and building the memory.”

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Adriana and her family left South Africa just before Level 5 lockdown in South Africa. They made the decision to go home because her step-son back home in Brazil fell ill. He sadly passed away from Covid-19 before his symptoms were understood.

When the pandemic hit South Africa, English School needed to adapt to be able to continue. English classes were moved online – this enabled Adriana to continue her English studies online. “It was not the same, but I loved it. English School still provided us with lessons and sent us links to watch some videos, they also helped us with our writing.” Adriana was able to complete her course with English School via WhatsApp.

Adriana now hopes to begin learning her fourth language –French – in order to continue her research of the indigenous people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.