by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
The day was coming to an end, and our last home visit was accessible only through one of the many narrow and dark alleys that crisscross the favela (urban slum) on the edge of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Above me, though, a young girl leaned out a window, grinned, and rushed to open the door. As we entered, she held up her finger to ask us to wait one minute, ran up the winding stairs to the upper floor, and returned with a pink, plastic toy computer. She smiled at us again and said proudly, “Netbook!”
While deploying technology pilots over the past two months in Dominica, Zambia and Brazil, it has become clear that technology has a universal appeal. The appeal, though, is strongest among the children.
Staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Brazil spent a week in Villa Ventosa, a village in the Nova Barroca neighborhood to continue the mobile application tests that began in the Caribbean in April. We worked with our affiliated partner, GEDAM (Grupo de Educação Desenvolvimento e Apoio ao Menor), to evaluate an Android application created at our headquarters and loaded onto tablet computers. The app synchronizes existing child data acquired during a home visit with geospatial information so that we can better analyze geographic patterns among our enrolled and sponsored children. This data is then combined with a photograph of the child’s letter to his or her sponsor, which was captured with the tablet’s built-in camera and sent to a database in Richmond, Va. In the future, this image will be queued into a translation database accessible to our translators around the world.
In Brazil, GEDAM currently implements programs for approximately 500 ChildFund sponsored children. During the pilot, the team, consisting of representatives from ChildFund International, the Brazil office and GEDAM, set a goal of reaching about 20 children over three days in the field. Each day was split into morning and afternoon home visits where the two teams walked the dense neighborhood amid stray dogs and hollow clay brick houses with corrugated roofs that extended beyond the horizon.
The participating community mobilizers were immediately excited by the potential impact these devices could have on their work. Their day is often filled with administrative tasks that, if streamlined, would give way to more child-centered programming and an improved child/sponsor experience. As seen during previous pilot tests, the mobilizers came up with multiple ways in which properly focused technology could advance ChildFund’s mission. These insights will guide future applications and ChildFund’s broader mobile platform strategy.
Every child we met during a home visit seemed drawn to the tablet. Some intuitively reached for the glass surface and used the standard gestural commands to interact with the device. Some simply smiled when they realized that this home visit was different, and they were participating in a unique experience.
One thing became immediately clear: although we consider our work in mobile technology to be innovative, the children are the true innovators. It comes natural to them.
On the way out of her house after we captured an image of the letter she had just handwritten, a teenage sponsored child turned to the team and said, “Next time, give me the tablet and I’ll type the letter directly to my sponsor.”
Reporting by Luza Marinho, ChildFund Brasil
Spring fashion week in Minas Gerais, Brazil, took on an added dimension this year with the much-anticipated release of a T-shirt designed by Victor Dzenk. Proceeds from sales of the shirt will benefit children in ChildFund programs.
More than 200 journalists, designers and fashion followers turned out to preview the noted Brazilian designer’s 2013 summer collection. The show included the release of the special T-shirt. Internationally known for his avant-garde prints, Dzenk is also focused on social responsibility.
“Last year in Rio de Janeiro, we created a T-shirt for the breast cancer foundation with a pink bow. It was beautiful and a great success! We want to repeat [that success] working with children from ChildFund Brasil,” he said. “ChildFund Brasil is a serious and respected organization. It is very gratifying to add beauty and an art project.”
Celebrities such as fashion consultant Gloria Kalil and members of the national and world press became acquainted with ChildFund’s mission, while snapping up the designer shirts. Fashion model and blogger Cris Guerra shared with the audience her experience of nearly 10 years as a ChildFund sponsor. Her stories about Fernando, her sponsored child, touched everyone.
The event also featured a special exhibit of photos taken by photographer Luíza Villarroel and students in the ChildFund-supported Photovoice project. A few days before the fashion show, the students had the incredible opportunity of photographing Guerra—sporting the Dzenk T-shirt—in their own community of Sierra Cluster.
Seeming unaffected by the glamor of the moment, the student photographers lost no time in determining the shots they needed and then capturing street scenes with Cris as their focal point.
The Photovoice project teaches children and youth how to use photos, videos and other communication techniques to express their views and their voices. The 2012 workshops are focusing on social identity as revealed through self-portraits and portraits of community residents—capturing life histories, recording the daily life of students and exchanging “looks” and experiences.
Discover more about ChildFund’s work in Brazil.
Reporting by ChildFund Brasil
During January’s 31 days, we’ve made a blog stop in all 31 countries where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. On our final day, we meet Wagner Oliveira, an accomplished teacher who attributes his success to sponsorship and ChildFund Brasil.
From the age of 4 until age 20, Wagner Oliveira was enrolled in ChildFund Brasil’s Projeto União. “Today, I have a broader vision of the world, and I owe this to the project,” he says. “Here is where I started. The project contributed to my formation because it encouraged me to study…. “I learned to value my friends and interact with people.”
Now 37, Wagner teaches at several schools in the city of Fortaleza/Ceara, Brazil. “If I grew up with education, I must give education,” he says. He counsels children to grab hold of education and do their best to overcome adversity. “You’re much stronger than you think,” he advises young people. “You have no idea how strong you are. Be stronger than your problems.”
Wagner also has a message for ChildFund sponsors: “You have the privilege of being part of the group that will build a better future.”
Reporting by ChildFund Brazil and Monica Planas, ChildFund Americas Regional Communications Manager
Today marks ChildFund Brazil’s nationwide celebration of Sponsor’s Day — a day filled with special meaning for the many sponsors and currently or formerly sponsored children who have been touched by ChildFund’s programs in Brazil. Thanks to the expansion of ChildFund’s presence around the country, thousands of children now have the opportunity to improve their lives.
That expansion is partly because people from all walks of life are celebrating the day by spreading the word that sponsoring a child is one of the best investments anyone can make.
Well-known blogger Cris Guerra is one of them. She has been sponsoring a child through ChildFund for nine years. “It’s awesome and very easy to be a sponsor for a child,” Guerra says. “I had the opportunity to travel to the town of the child I sponsor and to meet him face-to-face. His mother came toward me crying, thankful that I’d been the sponsor of her son. The hug of that child, and also learning a little more of his life history, provoked an emotion that I can’t describe. At the moment that I met them personally, I had an idea of the help that I am bringing to that family. Being a sponsor makes a difference.”
That’s true for 11-year-old sponsored child Robert, who lives near Belo Horizonte. “I take part in computer, sport, [drawing] and dance classes,” he says. “It’s very rewarding because it keeps me busy and off the streets.”
Robert’s mother, Vicentina, is sure that without ChildFund’s support his life would be tougher. “I do hemodialysis three times a week,” she says, “and on those days I know I can go to the treatment lighthearted, because my son is benefiting from ChildFund’s program activities.”
Zé Teixeira, a 46-year-old father of two, is proud of having been a sponsored child in the past. He was one of eight brothers. “Things could have been much worse for us,” he says, “but some of my brothers and I had the privilege of taking part in ChildFund’s programs, which improved our living conditions.”
Nowadays, Teixeira is a musician, a music producer and civil servant. Last month his own mother had the joy of being in a position to support a child enrolled in the ChildFund project. “ChildFund’s work is essential because it fills the gap of socio-economic discrepancy, rescuing marginalized families,” she says.
ChildFund’s national director for Brazil, Gerson Pacheco, speaks to the benefits of the sponsorship relationship itself. “Many stories and different lifestyles are shared, and experiences, advice and encouragement are exchanged,” he says. “The sponsor has the opportunity of both contributing to and following his sponsored child’s development. When donating a small amount, a citizen supports social projects that benefit children, families and communities. And the effect is reciprocal.”
To Ana Maria Carvalho, having the opportunity to help a child is wonderful. “It has been about one year that I have sponsored a 6-year-old child,” she says. “I’d been influenced by my daughter to sponsor this child, and today I see how important my contribution is. I encourage all Brazilians who have means to help to take part in helping, and contact ChildFund and sign up.”
The Cantinho dos Sonhos program in Brazil is not only helping children in rural communities learn to read, it’s also helping them discover their dreams.
by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office
Editor’s note: Today Nicole concludes her three-part blog series on her visit to a ChildFund project in a Brazilian favela.
If I thought the streets were steep and winding when driving to Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz in the Belo Horizonte favela, it was certainly confirmed as we walked to families’ homes. Without exaggeration, I can say we walked up near vertical hills, over paved and dirt roads, down crumbling alleys and through overgrown yards. And that is just a fraction of what our community mobilizers (volunteers) do on any average day. They didn’t spare us the details or the terrain as we literally walked many miles — if not in their shoes then at least along the same paths.
Our guide was Ziza, a community mobilizer who has volunteered with the organization since November 2000. She goes house to house visiting families to raise awareness about specific ChildFund programs and children’s overall health and well-being. As the mother of a 13-year-old son, Ziza is not shy about broaching the topic of child violence, both within the home and within the community at large. Over the 10 years she has spent volunteering with ChildFund, Ziza has earned a reputation in the community for being a problem solver and a great humanitarian.
In fact, she has taken on the personal responsibility of helping raise 13 nieces and nephews. They live with her in her small three-bedroom house — a house with mud-and-stick brick walls and a cement floor. Several of the children share her bed. The most recent to join her is only 3 weeks old. When asked about the heavy burden she has taken on, her response was simple: “I believe greatly in what I do. I don’t see problems, I see future solutions.”
Walking with her, it became clear that Ziza is an important and valued member in the community. People trust her and we were allowed into homes, down alleys and through areas that we would never pass alone. But with her, there was a calm presence and an unspoken respect.
Along the route I chatted with several children:
We made our way back to the center (slowly — those hills are rough!) and checked in on their systems, processes and audit reports. Yet we kept thinking about the children, families and community because, much like the hokey-pokey, that’s what it’s all about.
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.
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.
We were honored to learn that the Association of Marketing & Communications Professionals has awarded ChildFund International three Platinum MarCom awards for the following television commercials:
Kudos to our creative agency Quigley-Simpson and to all who worked so hard to earn these awards as judged by our marketing and communications peers. We are particularly grateful for the support provided by ChildFund’s Brazil national office in the filming of these commercials.
The MarCom Awards are the product of an international competition to recognize and reward creative achievement. You can view ChildFund’s commercials and other videos on our YouTube channel.
by Jessi Hanson, Education Associate, ChildFund Program Quality
Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team has been working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology. As with any trip to the field, there are moments of exhaustion and exhilaration, as Jessi reflects.
Why We Do the Work We Do
One of the most personally impactful moments of the trip was going into a rural village where we have sponsored and enrolled children. I walked with ChildFund Brazil’s national director and several national office staff. The first house we came upon was made of adobe with a dirt floor. It had no electricity or running water. A woman greeted us near the house. She was washing her family’s clothes, while standing knee deep in a filthy stream. She used a stick to help clean the sudsy clothes.
Once again, I was staring into the face of poverty.
This kind woman, who had grown up in this village with its harsh conditions, explained to us that she had enrolled her children with ChildFund so that they could receive a better education and health care. She expressed hope that her children would eventually find a better place to live, or if they remained with her, she hoped that they would have skills to find good jobs and one day improve the family home.
ChildFund Brazil will soon implement a water-treatment project in this village. We’re also working with the school to make sure children are attending daily and progressing well.
A Beautiful Moment
The highlight of this trip—and probably for my job this year—was sharing in the moment when a community facilitator achieved a perfect score on her distance learning test, using one of our netbooks and the Brainhoney software.
It was amazing!
When we began working with Imilene, she had seen computers but had never been online or even used a keyboard.
Her day-to-day work is with early childhood development in one of ChildFund’s small project areas just outside of Turmalina.
When Imilene completed the test, she threw her hands up in the air and began cheering! “I did it!” she said, nearly in tears. “I passed on the computer!”
It was a beautiful moment.
During lunch one day, I was going to get coffee, and a server handed me a large unfamiliar jug that reminded me of a gasoline container. In my terrible Portuguese, I asked, “Is this coffee?” She answered, “Yes, all sweetened coffee.” I almost died laughing at how wonderful this was — a huge container of wonderful coffee, but seemingly very dangerous to pour.
A Man of Many Talents
Traveling to ChildFund projects with ChildFund Brazil’s National Director Gerson Pacheco, we visited a community center with a room dedicated to Creativity and Expression. It was stocked with toys, art supplies and craft items. One corner was full of musical instruments for the local children to play whenever they visit. Gerson suddenly picked up a guitar and began playing. To our wonderful surprise we discovered our national director of Brazil is a man of many talents.