Mauricio Correia Leite
Fellow Since 1990
This profile was prepared when Mauricio Correa Leite was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
Children living in situations of limited intellectual stimulation can become eager students when their teachers give "classes that don't look like classes," says Mauricio. He circulates "suitcases" of carefully selected children's literature, theatrical makeup, puppets, audio tapes, and tape recorders among isolated schools in the Amazon state of Mato Grosso. Mauricio has observed in literacy campaigns that merely putting materials, however brilliant, into teachers' hands does not guarantee success. So he travels to show teachers in their classrooms, with their students, how to act out stories and otherwise use the suitcase materials creatively. In these sessions, Mauricio encourages children to teach their teachers how to play. In turn, directed play then draws students into the realm of literature and, consequently, into reading and writing. Through city contacts and literacy networks, Mauricio continues to discover new materials and the best of children's literature from around the world to replenish the suitcases. Literacy is a measurable goal of Project Suitcase. Students read as many as 120 books a year for the fun of it. But, as Mauricio says, "it's not enough to teach people to read, we want to give people a thirst for knowledge."The project also has holistic goals that include greater self-awareness and respect for local culture and environment. For example, each suitcase contains a mirror, ostensibly for applying stage makeup but also to allow poor students the rare experience of looking at themselves. Parents provide valuable gems of local culture and bits of history. Searches for art materials lead to nature hikes or trash recycling. Students help keep Project Suitcase going through a UNICEF-backed workshop, where they build the wooden suitcases and produce traditional Brazilian toys destined for city markets.