by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office
Within the secure walls of Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz, one of ChildFund’s partners in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, we first encountered a group of children (age 8 to 12) sitting in a circle engaged in a singing challenge. The teacher would call out a word with a positive association (e.g., house, heart, love, smart), and the children would try to recall a popular song featuring that word. Then the children would try to come up with obscure words to challenge the teacher: “Do you know a song with the word centimeter?” There was much laughter and many smiles, but more important was the message around encouraging creativity, self-expression and positive images.
We popped into a classroom of 5-year-olds learning to color and spell words. The children looked within a drawing of a pineapple for letters to spell their own names. I took the opportunity to ask them what other fruits they like to eat. We had a great debate on what the best fruit was, but then they said that they only get fruit at the center, not in their homes. We also saw students learning to make frogs with construction paper and cotton balls. We talked about other things that are green and, of course, we hopped around just a bit.
Back outside, we headed upstairs for the official presentation of demographics, statistics, budgets and proposals. But along the way we sat in on a capoeira class. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts dance that has its roots in the slave identity and rebellions of Brazil. Though two people enter into the circle to “fight” each other, the goal is actually to never touch. The dance is a great source of cultural restoration and conflict resolution. I chatted with Mateus, age 10, and he told me that he “came to learn capoeira, but I’ve learned so much more.” He specifically likes the music sessions with traditional beats but with lyrics that emphasize math and literacy (a nice way to insert learning into any opportunity). Through the class he says he has learned “to defend myself, but never hurt people” and that his “African heritage is important to know and respect for [myself] and for my country.”
During the presentation by the staff, we learned that the favela has the highest population density in the state — almost 50,000 inhabitants. ChildFund’s partner is here to be a positive influence: to be role models, build awareness, develop skills and create hope. The staff realizes that they cannot make the decisions for the families, but they fight hard for children and, for the most part, the families recognize the work and want their children to attend center activities.
We also learned that local gangs see Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz as a positive force. When violence is about to break out, the gangs often inform the staff ahead of time to make sure the children stay home. Yet our partner organization also knows that drug traffickers begin to recruit children as young as 9 years old. So it is a difficult balance to find — an uneasy peace. The staff must work within community realities, yet remain focused on the well-being of children and youth, making programming decisions and setting priorities.
We packed up and headed out into the community.
Up next, I’ll tell you more about our time walking through the favela.