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Hughes student wins ‘Event of the Year’

Inclusive event collective recognised for challenging boundaries between events, social movements and collaborative spaces.

Hughes Hall student, Alexandre da Trindade, and colleagues from the Faculty of Education at were honored recently with the “Event of the Year” award at the 2023 Cambridge Student Awards, organised by the Cambridge Student Union.

The “II Freire Conference: Building the Bridge between Popular Education and University“, was run by the Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC), co-founded by Alexandre, and took place simultaneously at the universities of Cambridge and Rio de Janeiro, and online.

Dr Fábio Merladet and Alexandre da Trindade(6th and 7th from left, front row) with other event organisers and participants on the day, wave the flags of the social movements that inspired the initiative.

This initiative was a collaboration with individuals from various academic institutions and social movements, around Cambridge and around the world, including Cambridge Ethnic Community Forum, Karim Foundation, Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre, and the Brazilian popular education movement, Universidade Emancipa.

The II Freire Conference was an inclusive, international and interdisciplinary event with over 2,000 registered participants from 25 different countries across 4 continents. The conference showcased 440 works and activities, fostering a platform for global collaboration and knowledge exchange. Through a combination of in-person events in Brazil, the UK, and Cape Verde, as well as online activities, participants engaged in more than 70 sessions, including dialogues, cultural events, and presentations.

Ila Chandavarkar, Chair of the Cambridge Women’s Resource Centre, said: “Cambridge is so divided and we miss a trick by not joining forces more often. The women in our centre, for example, have a wealth of lived experience that can inform academic research, just as much as academics might be able to help them to change things on a wider scale. The greatest benefits come when we use shared spaces to bring people together, and use their complementary skills and knowledge to collaborate towards change that is needed.”

In Cambridge, students from the Faculty of Education transformed part of Homerton College into an open and shared space for the day, allowing community representatives and academics to meet and discuss local issues and initiate collaborations to promote positive change in the region.

At the heart of the approach is the concept of “popular education”, relatively familiar in Latin America but previously untried in a British academic institution like the University of Cambridge. Unlike formal education in schools, popular education, which often involves adults and children, is shaped by the participants themselves. It typically starts from people’s personal experiences with various political and social issues, aiming to empower them to work together to find solutions. Everyone teaches and learns from each other as they strive towards these goals. In Latin America, this often involves allowing educational institutions like universities to be symbolically “reterritorialized” by the local community, stimulating new ideas for collaboration.

The event opened with a “mística,” a form of ritual in which people express their aspirations and the ideas that led them to the event, helping to define the terms of the discussion. The academic article “The Case of the Popular University of Social Movements: Lessons on Dialogue From and For Humanisation and the Transformation of Institutions“, written by Alexandre da Trindade and Dr. Fabio Merladett, was recently published in the Journal of Dialogue Studies, exploring this dialogical emancipatory approach.

During the ceremony, CLAREC Collective members, Heidy M. Perez-Cordero and Rocío Fernández Ugalde, who received the award, emphasised the love, solidarity, and dedication of the many people who made the II Freire Conference possible.

The solidarity of attendees and volunteer interpreters made the event more accessible, with activities conducted in Brazilian Sign Language, Spanish, English, and Portuguese. Ensuring accessibility was a top priority for the organisers, providing valuable lessons and contributing to the debate on how to collaboratively promote a more inclusive, “popular,” and accessible education for all.