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.
by William Oscar Fleming, ChildFund Program Quality Team Leader
Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology.
Voices rise with excitement, reverberating off the room’s concrete walls and painted tiles, as staff and volunteers with ChildFund Brazil’s local partner GCRIVA embrace the challenge of improving programs for children and the community.
The discussion is lively, though sometimes quiet, and often punctuated with laughter and expressive hand gestures. These young men and women, who mobilize communities, are eager to develop new skills through ChildFund’s pilot projects using netbooks and software. The end goal is to streamline our child sponsorship processes and effectively deliver educational programs.
Yet, through these pilots we’re learning valuable lessons about how to improve the skills of our partners in the field.
Working in teams is new for these ChildFund partners. It requires them to define and assign individual roles (such as primary facilitator) and develop detailed lessons plans for each activity planned with children. Some mobilizers are working with different age groups than they would in their normal roles, and most volunteers have not previously been involved in group activities.
Working in this new way, team members were initially quite nervous about their ability to complete a lesson plan with children. Yet, thanks to their dedication and the training support they received, each educational session went very well.
As they worked with the children, the mobilizers and volunteers encountered several unexpected circumstances. In one early session they noted that the age mix was too broad and the total number of children too large to realize full participation. They quickly talked among themselves and subdivided the group by age, splitting facilitation and support roles, to ensure that children could actively participate in the lessons. At other sessions, the facilitators changed seating arrangements to make settings less formal and involve children in the lesson, effectively channeling their energy. Despite being unsure at times, each team demonstrated the ability to adapt and react effectively to the needs of the audience, increasing the success of the lessons.
As their skill and comfort levels grew, several teams revised the lesson plans to try new approaches to working with children. However with these adaptations the community mobilizers soon learned the importance of broadly communicating the proposed changes so that all team members felt included in decisions.
After each session with the children, the teams met to discuss what went well and what changes were needed going forward. Team members came to realize that how they worked together directly affected the success of the learning activities they were implementing. They also grew closer and developed mutual trust as they identified and overcame challenges together.
Through our pilot projects in Brazil, ChildFund has verified that supporting young leaders in interpersonal skill development and program implementation is just as critical as the content of the programs we’re designing for children and families. As we work with our partners to deliver programs, we are paying close attention to their capacities and needs so that we can provide corresponding support.
Using netbooks to share training materials will likely prove to be as useful for building the skills of our implementing partners as delivering programs to children and families.
by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office, and Ron Wolfe, Business Development Specialist
We are preparing our local partner staff and volunteers to hold small community events where youth, children and infants with their caregivers will be invited to participate in educational activities. We’ll also be attending to various child sponsorship activities such as enrolling children in programs, helping them write letters to sponsors and updating child photos. The goal is to join our educational programming and child sponsorship efforts so that they are more efficient and engaging. To plan these events, we have used netbooks to train staff and young volunteers.
Thais, 16, Roberta, 16, and Nathany, 15, gather nervously to discuss the upcoming community activities. They are all members of the local youth group but have not held leadership positions. Soon they will stand before 25 of their peers for one hour and lead group discussions, activities and workgroups. They are evolving from participants into leaders.
We chatted briefly with the trio, who preferred to give their collective feedback on the training and their expectations for the days ahead.
Did you enjoy training on the netbooks?
Yes! They are so cool. They are so small and we loved learning on them. We have done trainings before, but never like this. We love it. We have a small computer lab, but they are all old and some are broken. There aren’t enough for us to use so we mostly don’t know much about the computers at all. But these were so fun. We moved things all around, followed the training and learned a lot. We can use these in so many different ways.
What opportunities will you gain from this experience (past training and future activity leadership)?
Courage. We will conquer our fears of public speaking and be leaders. We will know how to interact with our peers, prepare presentations and have a better understanding of our friends’ feelings about our community.
There are so few opportunities for youth in our community to meet, discuss important things and even lead these discussions. This is a great opportunity for us individually and as a group. We will speak up and be heard.
What are your concerns?
We are nervous about standing up in front of our friends and other youth. We often discuss things with our friends in small groups, but never in front of 20 or more people. What if we say the wrong things? What if our friends laugh at us? What if no one shows up to the activity? What if they do not like we do? We are nervous. But we are also excited. We think it will get easier the more we do.
The lesson plans you selected are about how education is important in making healthy life decisions and about setting future goals. What other topics do you think would be important or interesting to discuss among the youth?
There are lots of topics that we don’t usually have the opportunity to talk about among ourselves in an informed way. Important topics would be drugs, environment, healthy bodies, violence and so many others.
Sometimes we have adults who will talk to us about these things, but sometimes it is hard to be honest with them because we are not comfortable telling them our personal thoughts or experiences. Sometimes we just get too nervous and never say anything at all.
And then sometimes we talk about these things among ourselves, but we don’t always have the right information we need or don’t know how to say things.
So it would be good to have the right information that we can talk about in these activities like we are doing next week. In the future, we can lead discussions and activities on these different kinds of topics. Or other youth can lead and we can participate. It will be good either way.
by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office
ChildFund works with more than 100 local partner organizations spanning 883 communities in Brazil. One of them is PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project) in Diamantina, about a six-hour drive from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais and the location of our Brazil National Office.
PROCAJ works with 22 rural communities outside of the city of Diamantina. It can take hours to drive to any given community, along dusty dirt-packed roads and over shaky wood-plank bridges. Some communities are only accessible via horse, which the PROCAJ staff borrow when they arrive at the outskirts, where the dirt roads end and the steep terrain begins. It is the dry season now, so many of the plants are wilted and brown, and everything is covered with red-clay rust.
Virginia is a social educator with PROCAJ and is participating in the Intel Child Status Index (CSI ) pilot. I first met her in March, when she came to Belo Horizonte for an initial discussion about the pilot. She made an immediate impression on me — outspoken, confident and focused on the well-being of the children. Now I am here in Diamantina for the pilot implementation and am going community-to-community with Virginia for the data collection.
I took the opportunity to sit down and do a quick interview with Virginia so you can know more about the faces of ChildFund in the communities:
How long have you lived in the area? Since childhood. I was born here. I am from here — I am Diamantina. I worked briefly in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte some, but mostly only in Diamantina. This is my home.
How long have you worked in the social development field? Six years: one year as part of my university research and field work and then five years with PROCAJ.
How did you decide to work with PROCAJ? I saw an announcement in the paper and was already familiar with the good reputation of PROCAJ and of Fundo Cristao para Criancas (ChildFund Brazil). I wanted to give back and to work more in the rural communities to make a difference. When I first began thinking about poverty and social work while in university, my interest was awoken. I knew what path I wanted to take, I was committed to social action and I knew I had to apply for the position.
How many families/communities do you oversee? I oversee four communities, representing more than 200 families. I work not only with the children enrolled in ChildFund, but their siblings and other family members as well.
What do you like about your job? I like being in the field, in the communities with the families doing the program activities. I like the direct contact with the families because you can see and feel their reality. You can feel the happiness of the children, and you see the program results in their lives. You dream it in the office and you realize it in the field.
How do you think child sponsorship creates change in communities? Sponsorship is a positive thing. It is a resource — financial, professional, personnel — and it brings the development to the people. It is the first step for lifelong changes. And when sponsors write, the children have a new friend far away.
Learn more about Virginia’s work in the CSI pilot in tomorrow’s blog post.