Until a few days ago, it seemed like the coronavirus had not yet affected Manaus. Only days ago, the beaches of Rio de Janeiro were crowded. A million supporters rallied for President Jair Bolsonaro, who shook hands with a myriad of people. On March 13th, the first two cases were reported in Manaus and the State mandated that all schools be closed immediately.
Here, at the Queen of the Apostles School (Rainha dos Apostolos), we consulted with the students as well as some of their families. Together, we decided that dismissing all 110 students would pose a higher risk of exposure than allowing them to stay. The several days of travel required for many students to return home would create many more opportunities for exposure than staying here on campus where we can ensure that necessary precautions are taken, including social distancing, and thorough cleaning. At this time, we are waiting for the state authorities to share their decision about our proposal.
In Brazil, between Christmas and the famous Carnival which takes place in February, all activities were put on hold. But for us at Queen of the Apostles, this was not the case.
Without the ability to take extraordinary care of the school grounds during these holidays, it would be impossible to return to regular activities when the school year resumes. For this reason, though the school closed on December 20th, several students, organized in groups, spent just over a week cleaning the school to keep it beautiful and functional. To avoid lengthy and expensive trips home, students who come from farthest away fulfill this task by staying a bit longer at the end of the school year or coming back one week before the beginning of the new year. Though students gave time out of their vacation, none of them seemed bothered or upset, as one might expect.
In February, the school ran a trial period for prospective students in which they lived on campus and immersed themselves in school life for 10 days so that they could see for themselves if it was a place for them. In the end, many realize that it is not the right fit, while others become more committed and decide to enroll.
Eventually, the holiday came to an end, and school year began on March 2nd.
One hundred ten students are enrolled and will spend the entire time on campus until Christmas 2020, as long as the coronavirus pandemic allows it.
Equipped with their hammocks, our students come from small towns throughout Brazil like Barcelos and Oriximiná, and towns bordering Venezuela and Colombia. It can take 4 or 5 days of travel, or more, to get to the school, requiring boat rides for some. Students hear about the school mostly from alumni, our best advertising tools. Many students come from a family line of Queen of the Apostles alumni.
In early March, Pope Francis released an Apostolic Exhortation on the environment and in particular the Amazon. We found our vision and work fully in line with his concerns.
Pope Francis affirmed that we do not need an environmentalism “that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples”. He explained further that, “alternatives can be sought for sustainable herding and agriculture, sources of energy that do not pollute, dignified means of employment that do not entail the destruction of the natural environment and of cultures. At the same time, the indigenous peoples and the poor need to be given an education suited to developing their abilities and empowering them.”
And we would like to follow his recommendations. In particular, we are inspired by his recommendation that “Dialogue must not only favor the preferential option on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded but also respect them as having a leading role to play. Others must be acknowledged and esteemed precisely as others, each with his or her own feelings, choices, and ways of living and working. Otherwise, the result would be, once again, ‘a plan drawn up by the few for the few.’”
In the past years, we here in the Amazon have witnessed environmental destruction and disaster because of interventions originating in greed for profit only.
We are grateful to Pope Francis for his words, and to you for believing in our work.