Essay 1

Michele Sargent

Professor Steven Alvarez

English 110

03 March 2012

Hardships  are not an Obstacle to Learning

Leoni Silva was born in the city of Paranagua in 1953, a small city located in the south of Brazil. According to her, she grew up poor and had many hardships in all aspects of life, from seeing her mother being beaten by her drunken father to having to defend her little adopted brother from the beatings as well. Her education was not an exception to those hardships that were mainly financial, but because she felt so strongly about it, she did not allow those hardships to get in the way of her academic success.

Map of Paranagua, Brazil

Leoni always says that she should write a book about her life, I know I would certainly read it. She talks about her hardships growing up, explaining how poor she was and how difficult it was to have at least one decent meal per day. One of the main reasons why she did not have provisions was her alcoholic father, because he would not remember what his actions were while intoxicated. Leoni stated in her example that “my drunken father used to come home and throw away the food I worked so hard to buy(Leoni). According to Leoni, because her father was intoxicated on a daily basis, he did not foresee the consequences of his actions having no recollection of throwing away the only food they had at home. According to Leoni hers and her brother’s first meal of the day would be in school the next day. Here Leoni mentions her brother as well and how they were exposed to the unacceptable behavior of their father, when they had to wait for the next day to go to school just so they
could eat a proper meal, and also how this created a major impact in their path to learning.

Growing up in Brazil, schools don’t normally have a bus service like in America and the kids are subject to public transportation at an early age. Leoni’s family did not own a car and her mother had to leave early to go work, so she had to walk her brother to school first and then walk to the nearby bus stop by saying, “I remember when I started school and I was 7 years old, I had to walk six long blocks all by myself at 5:30AM, just to get to the bus stop” According to Leoni, she was scared of walking alone in the dark because her neighborhood was not safe but even at such a young age her willingness to learn was very strong and this allowed her to understand how important getting up early and walking to the bus stop every day would someday be rewarded.

Leoni is describing one of her many struggles by growing up poor and because of that financial hardships were also a big part of her educational background. Her mother worked as a cook in one of the city hospitals and her father was a military officer, but since her father was always drinking there was hardly any money left to pay the bills. When Leoni was accepted to one of the most prestigious schools in the city, she had to immediately drop out because of financial problems. Leoni stated, “I did well in the test so I was accepted in a private school, but that was another battle because my parents couldn’t pay and I was left behind” (Leoni). In this quote Leoni indicates that not only she had to meet the academic requirements to be promoted to a higher grade, but she also needed the financial means to do so, by passing the test, she proved that she was clever enough to study in any school, even a private school but because her parents were poor, she had to stop her studies and wait for another opportunity to present itself to continue her academic career.

When I asked Leoni about her parents’ educational background, it was clear to me that they hadn’t accomplished much being that both of her parents did not finish elementary school, they only went up to 4th grade. According to Leoni, her parents education wasn’t complete and because of that they did not achieve much with their lives, but she wanted something different for her own life, so when I asked her if her parents had influenced her education, she said “yes (S.) and mentioned her father right away, when she said I wanted to succeed, to show to my father
specially that even without his help I could go far where his eyes never could see me(Leoni). Here she describes how much having a formal education meant to her and it became a goal in her life because of her father’s aggressiveness towards her family, she wanted to prove to him that his assistance or even approval was not essential in the path to her desired success.

According to Leoni, it was difficult to come from a family with such low educational credentials, it was clear that Leoni’s parents first priority was not her education or that of her brother. Besides all the financial problems, the beatings she had to endure and the lack of attention from her parents, she could not count on them to assist her in her studies when she stated, “because they didn’t have any educational background to help me, I had to look for help in every direction I could find it(Leoni). According to this statement, Leoni’s eagerness to learn was so powerful that
she didn’t care about her parents’ lack of schooling and she pursued her own education by other means, such as friends, relatives and teachers because she knew that her parents would never be able to assist her in terms of a formal education.

Since Leoni’s parents were not her educational role models and she was still able to accomplish so much in her life, I asked her why did she want to go to college and what made her so eager to get an education, not only high school but a collegiate one.  Leoni answered, “because I wanted to have a better life and give my children a better life too” (Leoni). In my opinion, having so little in her childhood, drove her to become a better
person and to provide for her children what her parents weren’t able to provide for her. Leoni also said that she wanted to provide “guidance” for her future generations and that she wanted to share everything she learned with those around her, specially her children.

I asked Leoni how difficult it was to attend high school and then college, with a full time job and having four children and a husband at the same time, because this reminds me of my own experience as a mother and student and she said, “it wasn’t easy, because I had to be focused in so many things such as meal time” (Leoni). She describes here that not only was she dedicated to her children, she was also dedicated to her
studies, and this made her efforts even greater because of time management, she had to make sure that everybody, including her, continued to direct their attention to their obligations. Leoni goes on to say that she was very “lucky” because her kids did not worry her in terms of school work and that they always followed her lead.

When I asked her about her expectations for her children’s educational goals, she said she has lots of them, especially because it was so difficult for her to accomplish her own educational goals, Leoni wants  her kids to thrive with the least possible obstacles, but the most important
expectation Leoni has is a  “college degree” but mostly she said, “I’ll expect they do their best” meaning that no matter what her kids choose, or what career path they decide to follow, even without a college degree, they will exceed her expectations.

My High School Class of 1993

The high schools in Brazil are a little different than the ones in America, they prepare the students for specific careers such as being a teacher, or becoming an engineer, so students can attend high school more than once if they choose to do so. As far as I can remember,Leoni  has always been in school, I remember her going to high school studying Administrative Business , then she graduated and started all over again with the aspiration of becoming a teacher after getting a college  degree. Leoni’s first major, Children Psychology was a way to accomplish her dreams,
but after one year attending college she decided to change her major. When I asked Leoni why, she said the “the System and the way I saw some of the staff at the schools treat the kids, specially the poor kids” she probably identified with those children and their hardships, since she was also underprivileged growing up, like Leoni, these children did not have their parent’s support and lived at the mercy of strangers at the schools.

After witnessing the mistreatment of the children in the schools and being powerless about what measures to take in order to help the children, Leoni decided she could no longer bear the children suffering and decided to change her major and began going to Law School. This was also a very difficult exam to pass, because I tried for two years and could not get my grade high enough to attend Law School. When I asked Leoni why she changed her major she said, “I decided to become a Lawyer, so my voice could be heard” I imagine that the treatment towards these children were unbearable to my mother and if her degree was Psychology she still would not be able to help them in what she believed was a much higher level, she wanted the whole world to know the situation in the schools, so she decided to become a lawyer to fight for their rights.

Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa - State University of Ponta Grossa

My mother and my grandmother at my mom’s college graduation

Leoni also pointed out that later on she regretted changing her major because to her being a teacher is the “the most important profession in the world” (Leoni). She believes that without a teacher or someone to guide us in our paths to success, there’s not much a person can accomplish, any other profession is believed to bring someone “status”, but without a teacher to steer us in the right direction, that goal of success just gets a little more difficult to accomplish.

Finally when I asked her about what she expected of me in terms of my education, she said “I expect you achieve the highest knowledge possible (Leoni). I believe that she means I should get the most out of my college experience and hopefully achieve my goal of finishing a degree. She also said that she hopes that college is giving me the necessary “tools” to make me a great professional and also “to make a difference in the life of other people” (Leoni). I suppose she means that going to college will allow me to get the most out of this amazing experience and that someday others will be able benefit from my knowledge.

My goal is to finish my degree and to make my mother and my kids proud of me. I was already familiar with her childhood hardships but I believe that my mother “sugarcoated” some aspects of it because I was not yet an adult and probably could not handle the whole truth.  This interview with my mother has helped me to understand that we can endure the obstacles that life throws at us and still strive to do our best to accomplish our goals and dreams. I am very proud of my mother because she is not only my educational role model, but also a role model for life.

Works Cited:

Silva, Leoni. Personal interview. 3 Mar. 2012.


Q. What is your full name?

A. Leoni do Rosario Silva

Q. When were you born? Or How old are you?

A. 09-29-1953 I’m 58 years old.

Q. Where were you born?

A. Paranagua – Parana – Brazil

Q. What is your greatest reward as a parent?

A.  To see my girls following me in the same path of education, because my boys dropped out of school.

Q. What do you enjoy most as a parent?

A. To do my best so that all my family succeeds.

Q. What do you enjoy least as a parent?

A. When I have to push my kids hard, to make them understand something they can’t do it by themselves yet. It breaks my heart, but sometimes you have to be a little tough with them.

Q. What has been your greatest struggle as a parent?

A. To live far from my sons and didn’t see any educational progress in their part, they have dropped out of high school. Unfortunately they don’t have the same will I had when I was young, they don’t have any ambition about their future.

Q. What is the highest level of education you have completed?

A. I’m a teacher, I also studied Business Administration in High School then went to Law School. After that I was studying to become a Judge and I stopped to come here.

Q. What is the highest level of education your parents completed?

A. My parents, both never completed elementary school, they only went up to 4th grade.

Q. Was that difficult, coming from a family that achieved low educational credentials? Why?

A. Yes. Because they didn’t have any educational background to help me, because my mom did not go to school, she was home schooled because she lived in a farm, my father went to school but he was often beaten by his teacher because of his behavior so he quit school at 4th grade. I had to look for help in every direction I could find it, like my cousins who were in the college at that time, friends, neighbors, my teachers, and specially the library.

Q. Who are your educational role models? Why?

A. My cousin Avelino, because he went to technical school and went to college for Business Administration, most companies would not hire him because of his skills and educational background.

Q. What were some of the choices you made for the schools I would attend?

A. We used to live in a tight knit neighborhood, and I made the choices for you based on the people that worked in the schools and their character, because at the time the Principal in that school was my teacher and my friend, when I was in High School studying so I knew I could trust her. She later became your Godmother.

Q. How was it attending College (University) while working full time with four children?

A. Wasn’t easy, because I had to be focused in so many things such as meal time, my and your (yours and your siblings) homework. I  consider myself a very lucky mother, I had great kids, who always had followed my lead, specially my daughters, who always made me so
proud and also helped me a lot.

Q. What made you change your major from Children Psychology to Law?

A. The System and the way I saw some schools treat the kids, specially the poor kids. I used to work in one of those day care centers, here the mothers leave the kids in the morning and go to work. I use to teach Pre-K. One day I arrived in the afternoon and I saw one of mine students with his brother in his lap and his hair was wet and he was crying, so I asked what happened and his older brother answered saying that the lady responsible for the lunch room put his brother’s face inside a plate of soup, because he couldn’t eat the whole plate and she got mad. I spoke to the Principal, to Department of Education and nobody did anything about it. So I decided to become a Lawyer, so my voice could be heard.

Q. Do you regret changing your major? Yes or No? Why?

A. Yes, because to me the most important profession in the world is a being a Teacher. Everybody always wants to be a Lawyer, Doctor, Economist, because they think it will bring them an elevated status, but nobody thinks they have to go be taught, and without a teacher they don’t go nowhere and became nothing.

Q. What do you expect of me in terms of my education?

A. I expect you achieve the highest knowledge possible, so you can do your best and be a role model to my grandchildren.

Q. What are your expectations from this English course [college; major]?

A. I hope that College is giving you the right level in education and the necessary tools to make my you became a great professional and make a difference in your and the life of other people.

Q. What educational goals do you have for your children?

A. I have a lot educational goals for my children, of course, including a college degree, for all of them, but if they chose some other careers, I’ll expect they do their best, no matter what they choose, because if they want to go on their own, I hope I was a good example for them.

Q. What do you see me doing in ten years?

A. I see you graduated, working in a good Company, until you can start your own business and also so you can help your children to accomplish their goals too.

Q. Why did you want/not want to go to college?

A. I wanted to go to college because I wanted to have a better life and give my children a better life too, and most important, to give them guidance for their future generation.

Q. What kinds of hardships (if any) did you have to face to  continue your education?

A. I always had hardships. I remember when I started school and I  was 7 years old, I didn’t have a backpack to put  my only notebook and my pencil, so I had to put inside a plastic bag that once  had grains of rice inside, I had to walk two long blocks all by myself, at 6  o’clock in the morning every day, so I could meet my Godmother at the bus stop  that would take me to my school. After my fourth grade, I had to take a special
test so I that I would be promoted to 5th grade, and unfortunately  my mom couldn’t find a Public School, but because I did well in the test I was
accepted in a Private School, but that was another battle because my parents couldn’t pay and I was left behind. I also had to sell cans, bottles, bones,  and wood, for by my schools supplies, and that’s was until I was 12 years old,  when somebody told me I could get my school supplies thorough politicians and so  I did. I used to walk for 2 or 3 hours to the Representatives House, I sat on  the steps outside, sometimes for 3 to 4 hours, to wait for them. After that my  school provided things for me such as, school supplies, uniforms, shoes and even  warm jackets until I finished 8th grade. Another hardship was  hunger, my drunken father used to come home and throw away the food I worked so  hard to buy and left me and your uncle without anything to eat until the next  morning when we both went to school starved till recess when we got our first meal
of the day.

Q. Did your parents  influence your education? Why? How?

A. Yes. Because I wanted to succeed, to show to my father specially  that even without his help I could go  far where his eyes never could see me. My parents never went to my schools to  see if I had good grades or if I was a good student. When I questioned my Mom,  she’s always told to me that she always trusted me.

Q. What kinds of options were available for people who didn’t go to  college?

A. Unfortunately, the heavy jobs, for women such as House Cleaning and House Keeping, sometimes even construction. For men construction, dirt jobs such as sewer cleaners,  mines, bus drivers, etc.


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