Teaching, Playing, Telling Stories, and Learning all The Way

Posted by on Jun 19, 2023

Many years ago, I was presented by my sister-in-law with a heavy book containing Shakespeare’s most significant works. A handwritten dedication on the front page said, “To one who works as if playing and plays as if working.” I have been a teacher since long before I was qualified. The second of seven children, at age ten I started minding my youngest brothers, as my mother went back to school to finish her degree. I took them to school, helped with their homework, fed them, bathed them, looked after them when they were ill, and told them stories I knew were not true, but wished they were. Not much later, when I was 19, I became an English teacher, but it was not before I was divorced with two children and nearly 40 that I graduated with a degree in Portuguese and English Languages and Literature.

Teaching and playing and telling stories, and learning all the way, is my life story, and it was in this context that I came to know the Gild Child and Her Long Walk to Freedom. When I first saw the video “Understanding the History of Patriarchy,” in my sixties, I was astonished. Now, I had been to many countries in the world, I had lived abroad, I had raised my brothers and my own children, I had been teaching for over 40 years, had volunteered in Ethiopia and in India. But I did not fully understand the meaning of patriarchy and had no idea of its pernicious power over women around the world. 

At the age of 10 I became my younger bothers’ babysitter, as my mother was going to college.

How alienated can one be? Very much is my answer. It is not until the veil is removed that one can see. I was raised without a religion in my home, but my country, Brazil, has its roots in Catholicism, so that is the stream families were following for centuries (not so different nowadays). Then I went to a Catholic school, run by nuns, for a few years and, to add to the recipe, I am white and with a privileged social status (never much money, but surely some status as the whole family went to university). How did I see the world? Through pink lenses and a lot of judgmental thoughts. I thought the poor needed assistance, Black people had a ‘past’ history of injustice and needed to get on their feet by their own merits, women had a place in society and ‘no competition’ was needed as ‘men will be men’ and we (women) will never beat them. 

I never conformed, I was a rebel, I was (individually and lonesomely) struggling to open my own path in life, but never ever even considered that I was being a feminist who could not accept that there was so much injustice against women (and Black people and poor people). I was what once the elders called “a rebel without a cause” — because I didn’t know what I was fighting for or against. 

Now I do. I am conscious of what I want the world to be like, not for me, but for everyone – girls, women, all genders, all ethnic groups.

India 2018, with Mohan (my host) – a time in my life (one of the best) when I started noticing not all was in place.

And that is when and why I started the Girl Child Long Walk reading journey in the Portuguese language. In many Portuguese-speaking countries, English is not spoken or understood by the great majority of people. In Brazil, for example, only 1% of the population is fluent in English, and we all know that most major publications are done in English. Portuguese and Spanish together share a humble 1% of all the publications in the world — so we are left behind. 

Because of that reality, I offered to translate to Portuguese the Understanding Our History of Patriarchy video and the book material for the reading journey. My idea and intent is that no one is left behind due to language barriers. We should all have access to knowledge, awareness and  positive thinking processes going on around the world. 

After translating that material, I started gathering Portuguese-speaking people to join in the reading journey in our language. We do the readings, have conversations, raise awareness, and little by little (sometimes so subtly that we can hardly notice) we do grow and change within ourselves and in the way we see others and respond to the world. And I am really happy to see the translations growing as the video and other materials are being translated into other languages so as to reach people who have no access to English.

Today I walk the world in different shoes, see the world through different lenses and from different angles, I talk to people with a different vocabulary and different meaning to my words and teachings. I no longer see God as a man who demands obedience and who elects only men to represent the faith. I am a teacher and as all teachers should do, everything I learn and earn, I share with others — that’s how I walk on Earth today, with subtle steps but sharp direction.

I believe that the discussion around patriarchy and the situation and position of women in all societies must be taken to every corner of the world. The veil must be lifted so that actions can be taken. And The Girl Child and Her Long Walk to Freedom — the video and reading material — is a great start to that journey.

Maria Lígia Conti is based in SorocabaSão Paolo, Brazil. She is a language teacher, healing doll maker, and former Girl Child Long Walk fellow. Lígia loves nature, people, and all that which is to be learned. Her goal in life is to be of service and to find her inner truth.