by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office
I moved to Brazil when I was 13 years old. The four years I spent there categorically shaped my adolescence and my life. In past years I have returned several times to study, work, volunteer and just to visit old friends. Brazil is a part of my identity, personality and the foundation for my passion for working with ChildFund.
Earlier this month, I visited our offices in Belo Horizonte while attending a ChildFund Alliance conference to discuss opportunities to make child sponsorship more efficient (faster, less costly) and effective (more developmentally rewarding for children and more engaging for our sponsors). Our long discussions and debates will benefit the organization in the coming years.
Yet the best day for me was when we visited ChildFund communities. It reconnects me to my job and our organizational purpose, to the children and the families who endure harsh realities and to our partner organizations’ programs that aim to empower, inspire and evolve. A day in the community has no equal.
Conference attendees divided into three groups for site visits. Mine went to a nearby favela — an urban hillside slum. It was maybe only 10 kilometers (six miles) from our hotel, but it was the epicenter of urban social exclusion. We drove slowly up winding paths and around tight corners, passing day laborers scattered in the streets painting bricks, stacking rocks and collecting recyclable materials to sell for small change.
There is no land for urban sprawl, so favela dwellers build higher and higher, making their shanties increasingly susceptible to landslides. We saw “rat nests” of wires carrying electricity but no sewage drainage systems. We saw broken glass strewn in the streets, making the roads appear iridescent, and larger razor-sharp shards atop walls to deter thieves. And there was garbage of every shape and color. The city of Belo Horizonte, with its parks and high-rises, sprawled out below — completely within view but seemingly a world apart.
As we navigated toward our destination, we discussed the realities of sexual abuse, violence, gangs and drug trafficking that favela children confront daily. We talked about their alternating fears of either police absence or police corruption. We noted how all of these factors impact the lives of children, including their identities within their own families. We discussed what it means to be a member of a community rather than merely an inhabitant, and what the future would hold for these children without support from family, community and organizations.
Then we spotted brightly colored walls…a place for children. We had arrived at Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz, ChildFund’s partner organization that supports nearly 2,000 children and teens from some 700 families in the area. They offer formal and informal education programs, computer classes, sports, arts (dance, music, crafts), and professional skills development. They work closely with community members to involve them in identifying the root causes of poverty in the area and then setting priorities, planning activities and evaluating the results. They also develop the capacities of volunteers and community leaders.
More tomorrow about what we discovered behind the center door.