Back in prison but not behind bars
Surrounded by young men and computers in a prison classroom, Wanderson Skrock noticed one teen in particular. The 14-year-old was serving his third sentence for drug dealing, and his cavalier, uncaring attitude was strikingly familiar. Wanderson recognized his former self in the boy’s disregard for his future and his unwavering intent to return to the streets as soon as possible.
"When I found the courses at CDI, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I felt full of hope and confidence." 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 assured his pupils that they had choices beyond gang life and street crime. After the final evaluation, a 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.”
A bright future
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.
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.”
Shining a light for others to see
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 these realities.”
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 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 of favelas.
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.”