Wanderson shares his inspirational story with thousands of people gathered for MGX
Wanderson spent the next six months teaching computer skills to the young man and other inmates
in the Brazilian correctional facility. Sprinkled among lessons on Microsoft Word
and search engines, Wanderson ensured his pupils that they had choices beyond gang
life and street crime. After the final evaluation, the 14-year-old asked to speak
to the whole class.
“I think when I become a computer teacher, just like you, I'll know how to give
good classes,” the young man said, holding Wanderson’s gaze. He went on to say how
the course helped him become a better person and he intended to become an educator
rather than go back to dealing drugs.
The response floored Wanderson. “I was making a difference in the lives of those
who never had a hope,” he says. “I will never forget this moment, not only because
it motivates me but mainly because a story like this makes me believe in my work.”
He now works for the Brazilian arm of the Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI), a nonprofit
that transforms communities by increasing access to computers and education in entrepreneurship.
Thanks in part to funding and software from Microsoft YouthSpark (the company’s
global initiative to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential),
the young brasileiro teaches computer skills
to prison inmates, correctional officers, and residents of regional slums.
Wanderson isn’t so different from the young man he taught. Like a quarter of Rio
de Jainero’s population, he lived in a favela, or impoverished and densely populated
urban area. IRIN, the United Nations news service, calls the neighborhood where
Wanderson grew up “one of the most deprived and underdeveloped corners of Rio de
Janeiro.” There, the average resident attends school for only four years, suffers
child mortality rates five times higher than those in wealthier areas, and lives
13 years less than their more fortunate peers.
An avid soccer fan, Wanderson spends most of his time now helping young people learn
Wanderson’s life conformed to these grim statistics. He grew up with his mother, who works as
a maid, and his six siblings in a warren of tightly packed concrete buildings pocked
by bullet holes. He dreamed of something better, though, and refused to settle for
the paltry education, constant threat of gunfire and low wages that characterize
the favela. He picked what he saw as the only way out: Wanderson joined local drug
traffickers in a bid to improve his family’s lot in life.
His choices landed him in jail twice before he turned 17. The second stint in the
correctional facility, though, changed his life. In 2008 he took a computer course
from CDI—his first meaningful experience with technology. At first, Wanderson regarded
the class as irrelevant. As he attended more sessions, though, he became familiar
with basic typing, the Microsoft operating system and the Microsoft Office suite.
Internet searches helped him look beyond his oppressive conditions by offering a
glimpse of post-prison job prospects. He gradually realized that the skills he was
learning could translate into a career—and a way out of a destructive cycle.
“When I found the courses at CDI Community I could see a light at the end of the tunnel,
and I felt full of hope and confidence,” Wanderson says. “I realized that a better
future could come to me.”
Wanderson has not only found the success he was hoping for; he also shone that light
into the lives of hundreds of others. Since completing that first IT course, he
has taught digital literacy to other inmates who, like him, had few (if any) prospects
of lifting themselves out of hardship. Wanderson believes that technology training
offers a legitimate career path for the people—often children—who are locked up
in Brazil’s correctional institutions or trapped in the iron grip of poverty.
“Education provides opportunities for them,” he says. “This is the key to change
He also travels to poor communities in a “technology truck” to extend the reach
of CDI’s programming. By bringing computers and classes into the favelas, Wanderson
and other educators motivated people who would otherwise have little or no access
to training and technology.
Wanderson works with CDI to bring tech skills training to the disadvantaged youth
of Rio de Janeiro..
went on to earn a Bachelor’s in business administration from the Universidade Veiga
de Almeida in Rio de Jainero and plans to earn an additional certification in human
resources. He envisions a future in which he continues to work with CDI and other
organizations that empower the disadvantaged through education and job training.
That, he believes, is the best way to improve communities from the inside out.
This drive to help others surpasses nearly everything else. He rarely finds time
to play on his neighborhood soccer team or relax with a game of paintball, his favorite
pastimes, though he visits with his mother, sisters and brother as often as his
packed schedule allows.
Anything less than his full dedication wouldn’t feel right, Wanderson thinks, because
he knows firsthand that an instructor can ignite hope where desperation once stood.
To multiply his impact, he now trains instructors who will teach inmates and residents
He teaches the most important lesson by example. He is living proof that change
is not only possible; it’s within reach of even the most disadvantaged Brazilian.
For him, all it took to spark the transition was a teacher who reached out. The
gesture, along with access to computers and skills training, helped him break free
from a life of crime. Now, by training future teachers, Wanderson’s influence is
spreading exponentially, helping even more young people reshape their lives.
“I believe we can help people change, we can change our communities, we can change
our country and, why not? We can change the world.”