Thailene – a strong and courageous mother

17/05/2019 – Thailene Cunha da Conceição is one of the many strong and inspiring mothers that we have at Fight for Peace. She studies on the Pathways education programme at our Rio Academy as well as being a mum to Mara (10), Thales (7) and Thiago (5). While she’s in class, Mara and Thales take part in Fight for Peace capoeira and boxing sessions –  in fact, it was thanks to Mara’s support that Thailene was able to return to her studies:

“The person that gave me the strength to study was my daughter, Mara, as she wanted to start doing capoeira. I bought her here to Fight for Peace to sign her up for training, and only after this did I go back to studying,” explains Thailene. “At that time it had been a long time since I had done any studying and, although I had wanted to get back into it, I hadn’t had the chance. I’d stopped when I was 14, shortly before my daughter was born, because I just couldn’t carry on going to school. I lived a long way away from school and had to walk there – being pregnant meant that it was really hard. After Mara was born, I tried to go back and carry on studying, but the old teaching methods just weren’t doing it for me anymore. I had always loved studying, but I lost heart. After having more children, it was impossible to balance my work and family commitments with studying.”

After starting the Pathways programme, Thailene discovered a new passion – writing: “I never thought that something I wrote could one day end up in a book. I had never written poetry before, but I was encouraged by the work that we did in class on Brazilian writer Conceição Evaristo So many parts of her story reminded me of my grandmother’s life. My grandmother came to Rio looking for a better life for her and her children. She couldn’t read and write, and neither could my dad, but as I learnt how to read he gave me loads of comic books and I really liked them. Because of this, I’ve always liked reading. As for the writing though, I can honestly say that I have learnt to love writing here at Fight for Peace.”

To begin with, Thailene was weary of showing her poems to anybody, that is until one day when one of the coaches at Fight for Peace, Diego, took a group of people from the Rio Academy to a poetry recital. “Diego gave me the strength to be able to recite one of my poems at the event. And even though I was embarrassed, I submitted one of my own poems”, explains Thailene. Since then, Thailene’s poetry has been published in the ALEPA Poetry Anthology, organised by Adriana Kairós, and she has also presented her work at various literary fairs and events. “I understood that what I wrote could really affect people. Until then it was only me that it was affecting. I know that if it wasn’t for those that came before us – Martin Luther King, our very own Conceição Evaristo, Marielle – these spaces just wouldn’t be available to us. For me, writing is liberating.”

“Nowadays, I’m more interested in reading things that touch me personally, reading the work of black writers and finding out all about them. Also reading about things in our society, about what goes on here in Maré and in other places, all of this gets me writing too. It’s difficult to explain life here in Maré to those that have never lived here. They don’t know what it’s like to wake up and not be able to leave the house or take your children to school because there is a police operation going on. For a long time I have wanted to become a lawyer because I am motivated to fight inequality and injustice. Despite the racism that happens in Brazil, I have never seen anyone arrested for it. How do you get used to this? How do I turn to my son and say that one day he’s going to be stopped in the street just because he’s black? How can I say to my daughter, when she’s walking to the bus, that they’re going to want to look in her bag just because she’s black. Unfortunately, racism still happens a lot here in Brazil and people are not sanctioned for it. We’re between a rock and a hard place – having to teach our kids what we don’t actually want to have to teach them.”

Understanding the reality that we live in, and fighting to change it, Thailene thinks that the most important thing that she’s learnt at Fight for Peace has been how to understand others and respect their differences: “Just because someone has a different opinion to you doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Here at Fight for Peace it is different to other places because respect for others is not just something that’s talked about, it’s something that’s done too. My children always say that everybody here treats them really well; they never complain about anything. Every single day I see how important Fight for Peace is for the young people of Maré. Here it’s like our second home. It’s not just the classes or the sport, there’s the Support Services team that are always available to help us with anything, and there is the employability support too.”

“Today, I think that everything that has happened in my life has happened at the right time – the right time for me to end up in this class, with these people, studying this in a way that’s working really well for me.” Asked if she sees herself as a strong and courageous mother, Thailene smiles: “I’d say I was, yes! Especially as I see how difficult it is bringing up children today; bringing them up here in our community. There are so many pathways and so many things on offer that are not what I want for my children. And I know that sometimes children don’t have the power to say no. My son sees men with guns, men taking drugs, and whether you like it or not, this has an influence. That’s why I try and take my children to the library here at Fight for Peace whenever possible. If I had to send a message to other mothers, I would say ‘believe in your son’s dream, and never stop fighting for your dreams’ – the more that you believe in it, the more likely it will become a reality. What we need here in Maré is opportunity, and thankfully in our community we have Fight for Peace and other opportunities.”