Lenita de Sousa Vilela is the principal of the Antoine Margarinos Torres elementary school, which serves 500 children ages 4-11. Five months ago, 300 military police recruits occupied the Borel area, in Tijuca, north zone. There is still drug trafficking, but the guns are gone. Lenita is a new woman.
In the last year before the UPP [military police occupation and pacification], the shooting was practically daily. The children didn’t sleep because of the shooting. At school, they were afraid of being hit by a stray bullet and they were fearful for their family members, who were sometimes involved. You didn’t know when it would begin, when it would end, nor who was doing it. You only knew you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank God, no one was ever hurt. But there are lots of bullet holes, which are now patched up. I’ve saved some of the bullets that hit the school to use in what I call my Holocaust Musuem. I lived through a Holocaust which exterminated my dreams and my voice, my ability to speak out. I felt I wasn’t doing my full duty but I had to keep quiet to survive.
When the police would invade the favela they’d want to come into the school and get a drink of water. I couldn’t let them. I couldn’t bring visitors here nor point out the sights from this play area. If I did that, the trafficker would send an armed man down to tell me to stop pointing. When I installed security cameras in the school, he sent somone down to ask why I was spying on them. I happened to be here that day, I was on maternity leave. There I was, breastfeeding my baby, there in front of a man with guns. I showed him that the cameras were focused on my students. I told him I wasn’t the least bit interested in looking at what he and his people were up to. I told him to take care of his own business and I’d take care of mine.
God kept me here (as principal) for 18 years because he wanted me to eat filet mignon, after only munching on the bone. This is an elected position, but I never had an opponent in all these years. No one else wanted to work here.