In Sao Paulo, a 'social Silicon Valley'

Brazilian journalist Gilberto Dimenstein's vision to turn a rough neighborhood into a 24-hour center of learning has been largely realized.

SAO PAULO, Brazil--Brazilian journalist Gilberto Dimenstein walks down an alley in the Villa Madelena neighborhood showing how what was once a haven for drug dealers has been transformed into a canvas for artists.

Click here to read all of the blogs in The Borders of Computing series.
Click here to read all of the blogs in The Borders of Computing series.

Dimenstein's vision, to turn a rough neighborhood into a 24-hour center of learning, has been largely realized. In one building, craftsmen create violins from bare wood, while in another an artist weaves scraps of cloth into a placemat. In the Aprendiz cafe, Dimenstein's centerpiece, seniors learn to use the Internet while people flock in from more affluent parts of the city to enjoy the restaurant's fine foods.

It's not perfect. Shortly before CNET News visited Aprendiz last fall, thieves had broken in and stolen a number of computers. That said, the PCs were quickly replaced. It took Dimenstein just a phone call to find a donor.

Dimenstein is nothing if not creative when it comes to both his project and how he pays the bills. A wealthy school pays for its students to volunteer with the seniors. At the same time, Dimenstein uses some of that money to offer a stipend to students from less well-off schools that volunteer at Aprendiz.

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Among those working at Aprendiz is Marina Rosenfeld, who started out as a student and now works at the project.

"I was not a good student," she recalls.

"You were a terrible student," Dimenstein interrupts.

Rosenfeld said she got something from Aprendiz she wasn't getting from school.

"When I came here, I think people believed in me," she said. "It was very different from a traditional school (where) they just think you are good if you get good grades."

And, like all the students in the Aprendiz project, she went to college. "Everyone has to go to college," Dimenstein said. "There is no discussion."

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