World News Day: Where are Brazil's kindergartens?

Ambitious Brazilian plan to solve childcare needs of working parents falls way behind target.

Without the promised daycare centre in Rua Curumim, Marilene Moretto has to look after her grandson Matheus. PHOTO: ZERO HORA

July marked the 10th anniversary of one of the most ambitious construction projects ever created in Brazil - the National Programme for Restructuring and Acquisition of Equipment for the Public-School Network for Early Childhood Education (Proinfancia).

This federal project emerged in 2012 as a possible redemption for the dilemma of those who had nowhere to leave their children while they go to work.

In Rio Grande do Sul, the construction of 1,843 daycare centres and sports courts was planned. Of this total, 853 were not completed. For three reasons: either they were cancelled (they only had a contract, the work did not even start), they are unfinished (the contract ended before the construction was finished) or paralysed (the construction stopped, but the contract is still in force).

When someone analyses the skeletons of unfinished daycare centres in Rio Grande do Sul, one name tends to pop up: MVC Componentes Plasticos.

This company, which is undergoing judicial reorganisation, started to build 41 daycare centres and never finished them. They represent 41 per cent of the works interrupted in Rio Grande do Sul territory by the manager of Proinfancia, the National Education Development Fund (FNDE), linked to the Ministry of Education.

The companies told us that the schools were unfinished because the federal government delayed all transfers of funds for the works. And also because municipalities did not comply with earthworks commitments.

"More than 10 meetings were held at the Ministry of Education, explaining the problem of default and requesting the resumption of works. Nothing worked, the resources did not come," said representatives of Gatron (MVC's new name), in a note to the editors.

The vast majority of FNDE works comprise Proinfancia schools, but some are sports fields. Of the total 853 projects that did not succeed in the state, 202 relate to MVC.

The Federal Audit Court is watching and has just approved a specific audit for interrupted works across the country. Almost all of the abandoned buildings are children's schools. Of the 9,700 suspended projects, about 2,300 had started some work on structure.

What is strange to the auditors, according to court documents, is that the federal government has prioritised the building of 2,000 new schools recently, when there are so many unfinished projects.

The RBS Investigation Group researched federal government and municipal websites and found that MVC is the contractor that promised most but fulfilled the least contracts.

When the federal government launched the Proinfancia bidding process in 2012, the state faced one of the worst deficits in early childhood education, with a need for more than 215,000 vacancies.

MVC closed contracts to generate 19,400 vacancies in Rio Grande do Sul, with the construction of 208 of the 1,800 projects planned by the FNDE (almost all daycare centres). But only 12 schools were completed (6 per cent of the forecast), with a balance of 1,900 vacancies created. Other contractors also failed in the commitment.

The skeleton of a planned daycare centre in Rio Grande do Sul. PHOTO: ZERO HORA

What happened? It is a long story.

The federal government was in a hurry to tackle the deficit in early childhood education.

In Rio Grande do Sul alone, 215,000 job vacancies had to be created. Due to the need for speed, the first Proinfancia bidding had among the winners four firms that prepared innovative constructive proposals, which promised to conclude in less time and at a lower cost than conventional ones.

One of them, MVC, won a bid to build 1,241 daycare centres in the country (208 of them in Rio Grande do Sul), by replacing bricks with a polymer (fibreglass), a lighter material.

The method, said to be more agile and cleaner than traditional masonry, uses ready-made sheets fitted together. However, the construction company was not able to build the planned schools within the established deadline.

It claimed financial difficulties due to lack of transfers of state funds and asked for price readjustments, not granted by the city administrations - which would also have failed to comply with other agreements, like preparing land.

MVC even committed to building 900 projects by 2015 and started more than 600, according to a report brought to the federal government that year. Then the work stopped. The result is that, between 2013 and 2015, MVC completed only 12 daycare centres in the state.

This occurred after part of the funds were allocated to the ventures. In addition to wasting public funds and the deterioration of the construction material in the interrupted works, the communities were left without the daycare centre vacancies that would be created in these almost 10 years.The Federation of Associations of Municipalities mediated meetings between mayors and representatives of the construction company, which undertook to resume work. But despite promises, the schools were not completed by MVC.

    Some families have nowhere to leave their children

    A research group visited eight unfinished schools in the Metropolitan Area and on the North Coast. The findings summarise the dilemma faced by thousands of people who put off the dream of working outside the home because they have no one to leave their children with, even though they saw daycare centres being built - and then abandoned.

    The municipality of the Metropolitan Area has one of the worst scenarios: Four architectural skeletons were abandoned between 2013 and 2015.

    The worst case is in Rincao da Madalena, where a school had just its foundations. Work on two others, in Loteamento Porto Seguro and in Morada do Vale III, reached half way.

    Over time, weeds grew between rooms, tiles and window frames were stolen, buildings became homes for the homeless and the walls are covered in graffiti.This publication located six of the children who could have enjoyed the daycare on Rua Aliança, in the Morada do Vale III neighbourhood. Today, they are being cared for by pedagogue Lisiane Fraga Trindade, as their parents have to work.

      Lisiane has 10-month-old twins Mauricio and Murilo, and also takes care of Laura Souza, Eduarda Magno, Gabrielli Oliveira Ribeiro, Eloa Costa and Bryan Costa Nascimento - all aged about five. All could have attended the daycare centre. Today, they play hide-and-seek in the abandoned work site.

      "It became an animal dwelling... a dead dog was removed from there. There are also homeless people there," says Lisiane.

      Bryan had always been cared for by his grandparents. He should have taken advantage of the daycare on Rua Aliança.

      He lives in the house just opposite the site. Now, he and other children have found a place in a room of a nearby school.

      The same drama echoes on Rua Curumim, in Loteamento Porto Seguro.

      Homemaker Marilene Moretto takes care of her 18-month-old grandson Matheus, while his parents work. He has been on the waiting list for a neighbourhood daycare centre since December.

      The centre's construction was started by developer MVC, which completed 54.1 per cent of the work. It was budgeted at BRL 1.5 million (about S$400,000), and the National Education Development Fund transferred only BRL 481,000. The construction came to a halt in 2015.

      "The abandoned building turned into a dump site. A shame. In the meantime, the boy has no one to stay with," says Marilene. ZERO HORA, BRAZIL

      • This story was first published by Zero Hora in June.

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