Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1989
Centro de profissionalização e de apoio ao emprego - CEPAE


This profile was prepared when Gilda Maria Pompéia was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Gilda Pompeia finds perhaps the most important technique in teaching drug awareness to high school teachers is encouraging them to put themselves in their students' place, try to see the world from an adolescent's perspective."As adults working with teenagers, we can get to know the difference between our spoken words and how we live our lives," Pompeia says. "We find ourselves reverting to that old expression, 'Do what I say, don't do what I do'."High school teachers who take her drug awareness course discuss society's prejudices -- and their own -- toward drug use. They often become aware of rigid attitudes that block their understanding of students and of drug use.An example is the uncomfortable responses she senses when she suggests that teenagers sometimes use drugs merely to experience pleasure. "People don't see drugs as pleasure but as sin," Pompeia says. Adults commonly assume that a pot smoker is also a thief or has deep psychological problems."I keep asking if this is envy of other people's pleasure. I feel a great resistance, a need to justify the use of drugs as related to problems, not pleasure," Pompeia says.She encourages orienting teenagers toward healthy pleasures rather than condemning them, repressing them or assuming they use drugs to escape problems.Pompeia recently gave teachers in her course the same questionnaire she has been giving to high school students, asking, for example, which of the following substances do you consider drugs, or what do you think of people who use drugs."The results show that teachers don't know the world of students," Pompeia says.They explore that world in the course, which has increased from 30 hours to 40 to encompass more material. Pompeia says the course is not a fixed set of ideas but fluid and dynamic, adapting to new insights and information. Drug use is not a disease, she says, but a very subjective cultural and social phenomenon.Besides moralism, another challenge for Pompeia's project is the decay in Brazil's educational system that has resulted from decades of neglect aggravated in recent years by economic crisis. Teachers receive low salaries and suffer lack of prestige despite their college educations."Most are so discouraged they just want to fulfill the minimum obligation and go home and watch the soap opera," Pompeia says. Few feel motivated to investigate social issues such as drug use that affect their students' lives.But Pompeia says she cannot put off pursuing her project in hopes Brazil's education system improves. "I'd be waiting the rest of my life," she says with a laugh.School systems are beginning to solicit Pompeia's course, and she is enlisting help from teachers who have completed it. Police in Sao Paulo also have invited her assistance. Police there have long offered a drug awareness course based more on moral and criminal aspects of drug use. But they now are asking Pompeia to share her more open approach with them, a sign that attitudes might be changing.Brazilian media and Brazil's new government have given some attention to drug use among young people, but Pompeia feels like issues still go largely ignored. Most written material on the subject is published in English or French, reflecting a lack of interest among Brazilian researchers.For Pompeia, the most encouraging moments are those when teachers studying her course do not want it to end, are not satisfied and ask to continue beyond its 40 hours.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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