Peace Essay Contest... by Rana Banankhah
In early April of 2019, I stumbled across a New Yorker article detailing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s claim to the presidency. As I began to browse the article, I couldn’t believe that he won, despite all of the hateful and bigoted comments he had made and stood by. The words that came out of his mouth were so disparaging, so vile, that I could not, and still have not forgotten them. This was the first time I realized there was a significant problem in Brazil.
Later that year, the prompt of a local essay contest, which I participated in, implored students to write an essay about an unsung hero of peace. I immediately thought of Brazil and began to research the country. The more I investigated the injustice plaguing Brazil, the more I realized how incorrect my initial perception of the country was. When I thought of Brazil, I used to think of the Olympics, the beautiful beaches, and the tropical environment. The research opened my eyes to the other side of Brazil, the side the government doesn’t want outsiders to see, namely the favelas.
In Brazil, government officials live lavishly, while allowing their citizens to struggle to survive in slums run by gangs. The worst part is that those who speak out against the government are often silenced or punished. Despite this constant threat, many Brazilians still stand for justice. Activist Marielle Franco’s story particularly inspired me to write about her life in my essay.
Before the results of the contest were released, I decided that if I were to win, I would donate all of my winnings to a charity that could help the situation in Brazil’s favelas. As I browsed the web for such charities, I discovered The Favela Foundation. I love the work The Favela Foundation does in Brazil and numerous projects they have supported, such as the educational trips and the teacher training workshops. Additionally, during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, this foundation has proved to be a major support system for the people living in favelas. Their work and aid is crucial to the livelihood of Brazilian people, as the government has not provided much support to those in desperate need.
When I found out that I had won the contest, I did as I planned and donated my $300 winnings to the Favela Foundation. I realized that if I were to keep the prize money, I would probably spend it irrationally on something I didn't truly need, like another pair of shoes. However, that same prize money can be used to help feed or educate those in desperate need. When you think of it like that, it really isn’t a difficult choice. I hope that in the future, more students who enter and win these types of contests donate their winnings to worthy causes as well.
You can find the contest-winning essay on page four here.