The driving force behind the invitation made do Caritas, a Catholic Organization that assists refugees in Rio de Janeiro, to speak to Sociology students at Our Lady of Mercy was a desire to give students an opportunity to experience firsthand how the global refugee crisis, often labelled as “European”, affects our city and our lives. What Caritas brought to the student body, however, was far more valuable than anything I could have foreseen.


In theory, Brazil grants refugees the same legal rights afforded to Brazilian citizens even before processing their asylum applications. In practice, refugees are often turned away from jobs and public services and the legitimacy of their refugee documents is questioned. It is a common Brazilian misconception, for example, to associate refugees with criminal fugitives.


In his speech to students, Caritas spokesperson Diogo Felix rejected the popular argument that Brazil should shut its borders because it lacks economic infrastructure to help those fleeing persecution. Mr. Felix gave examples of how refugees use skills and tools available to them to create their own structures, often employing Brazilians.

Following Diogo’s speech, Mariama, a refugee from Gambia, shared painful memories that brought her to Rio de Janeiro. During her early childhood, she enjoyed school and envisioned a career as a doctor. Instead, she was removed from school at the age of nine and forced into marriage. Mariama gave birth to her daughter at the age of 14.

Maimuna Jawo (´20)

But today she rejects labels that victimize her. Instead, she points to her success in fleeing her country, in seeking asylum in Brazil and bringing her child to Rio de Janeiro after they spent years apart. Her refusal to accept the fate that had been imposed upon her makes her a warrior and a role model for all of us. It was quite touching to see her daughter, Maimuna, today an OLM student, present in the auditorium while her mother gave us all a taste of her own resilience.

- Joana  Sherril

Philosophy and Sociology HS Teacher