Our History

Phil Hawkins, CEO and founder of Aprender, was offered a chance to take a holiday in Brazil in 2001 – an event that proved to be life changing.

Phil had been a Science teacher for many years in London and had become involved in different schemes to improve schools.

Whilst in Brazil, he visited a public school in Vitoria, pictured left, and was touched by what he encountered.

He saw classrooms with 80 students each sitting passively in sweltering conditions looking bored and restless. He met staff and school leaders who were desperate – desperate about their working conditions, about what was happening to their students, about their wages and about the need for help from outside the system.

An average teacher worked in a school in the morning, one in the afternoon and then at a pizza restaurant in the evening to survive.

These children were facing a bleak life. Failure at school would mean a life of poverty and the lure of drug gangs and people trafficking. Kids that needed the best education were not getting the quality education they needed to give them choices. This sense of injustice was a real driver for Phil and became one of our central values. This was the moment when the vision for Aprender was born.


Phil revisited Brazil a further five times, each time bringing a bigger team of teachers and helpers to see what could be done to help. Through building relationships with local organisations, they began to learn what the real problems were, what was really happening and what was really important. Together with a group of interested and passionate friends, he formed the charity Aprender.


Phil became Deputy Head Teacher in a school in Croydon before feeling the call to move into international education development.


In 2010, Phil moved to Brazil with his wife Gill and children Harry, then 7 and Evie, 6. Goiânia was chosen as it was the headquarters of Total, our Brazilian partner NGO. The family returned to the UK in 2016 and Phil now supports projects in Brazil, the Middle East and Africa.