Gabriel Chalita was born in Cachoeira Paulista, 1969 in Sao Paulo. He has Lebanese roots, from the village Bkaa Kafra, North Lebanon. Chalita graduated in law, philosophy, and social science and did his PhD in law and communication at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP) where he currently lectures, among other universities.
Chalita is a philosopher, professor, politician and was the Secretary of Education for Sao Paulo. He talks to HOME Magazine about his projects, the pride in his Lebanese roots and the launching of his book “Socrates and Thomas More: Imaginary Letters” which was published in Arabic at the last Beirut International Arabic Book Fair in December, 2015.
It is known that education is a priority of any government. The city of Sao Paulo alone has about 1 million students. How did it feel to be asked by Mayor Fernando Haddad to head such an important department?
I was honored to be asked to head such a complex educational network as it is in Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is a rich and poor city at the same time, it is filled with opportunities and problems.
I’ve worked under this title before and thank God, with a highly competent team, I was able to achieve good results. Our challenge is to assure a good education for all, to involve the teachers in the process, to elaborate a program that will work on students’ potential and engage the family into the academic life of their kids.
If we dream of a peaceful society then investments should lay on education.
We know that you have Lebanese roots, could you tell us about your family. How do you see the Lebanese influence on your career? How was it like to meet your relatives in Lebanon?
My grandparents are from Bkaa Kafra, the highest village in Lebanon. I was thrilled while crossing the Lebanese mountains to reach their town, in Saint Charbel’s region. Many others traveled to Brazil seeking the opportunity to live in peace, and there they wrote their stories. It impressive how brave emigrants are, they have no knowledge of the new land, nor do they speak the language nor do they understand the culture but yet through their determination they made it big in Brazil. My father used to tell me proudly the qualities of his parents, their values and what they taught him and I always say that a Lebanese has at least three remarkable qualities: hard work, courage and love, in addition to the parties, the generosity, the courage and the hospitality. I am proud of my Lebanese origin, and the land of my grandparents’ braveness and dreams.
How could we elaborate cooperation projects between these two nations, Brazil and Lebanon, in terms of education?
I was very impressed by the education in Lebanon, really impressed. I talked to students of public schools who speak Arabic fluently, English and French. In my work in Brazil I have worked hard to improve and insure the quality of the education for all the kids. Last year we created 90,000 new places for kids in the primary education, alongside other projects aiming at the same objective. Today, all our schools have music classes, for example.
It is important to expand the concept of education, we should focus on the non-cognitive skills. Learning is an ongoing process, working on the social and emotional dimensions guarantees the formation of better citizen. In my last trip I visited the Minister of Education Elias Abou Saab, Minister of Culture Raymond Araygi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil. They were all very receptive and will facilitate the exchange of experiences between both countries. I am following up on the educational projects, since the important visit of the interim President Michel Temer in 2011.
What was it like to launch a book in Lebanon?
I started to write when I was 12. I have written 75 books that together have sold ten million copies. I have launched books in other countries that were translated to other languages. But I must say that launching a book in Lebanon felt different. I was picturing the simplicity of my grandparents, their effort, the sad moments and also their dreams. I hope to launch other books in Arabic, it feels great to do so.
"I have written 75 books that together have sold ten million copies. Launching a book in Lebanon felt different"
As Lebanon's son, I truly wish that this blessed land that has suffered from wars for so many years has finally reached peace.