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Sep8TueThe Salvation Army is meeting the practical needs of children in São Paulo. September 8, 2020 By Robyn Goodyear
In the densely populated and ever-growing Vila dos Pescadores neighbourhood in São Paulo, Brazil, houses are built on stilts in a swampy area. Unemployment is high, and community members rely on employment in the fishing industry and local informal commerce, such as unlicensed markets and vendors. There is no elementary or middle school in the area, so students have to go to school in a neighbourhood on the other side of a busy highway. This community is plagued by high rates of crime and drug trafficking, resulting in frequent police raids, as well as dangerous levels of pollution due to lack of environmental conscience. Social exclusion results in low self-esteem, low motivation from students and high vulnerability among residents, with little hope of overcoming the difficulties they face.
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The Salvation Army in Brazil is meeting the practical, social and spiritual needs of more than 150 families each year through a program funded by the Canada and Bermuda Territory’s Brighter Futures Children’s Sponsorship Program. This project aims to tackle serious issues through education and training by equipping students and their families with valuable life skills and community support. Trained educators at the centre help to implement a new political education plan, provide life-skills teaching and a curriculum focused on the prevention and empowerment of children and adolescents against sexual exploitation and abuse. The centre offers classes in the arts, dance, films, computer skills and reading. Through these classes and games, students are taught about the themes of structural racism, violence, trafficking and crime, abusive relationships, and how to confront difficult situations. Here, children learn from an early age important values of respect, social awareness and environmental consciousness, which they can use to protect themselves and their community. The centre also provides children and adolescents with opportunities to learn and play in a protected environment, and connects families with social workers who help to strengthen family ties in order to prevent situations of vulnerability and social risk.
Selma, a mother of three who lives in the Vila dos Pescadores neighbourhood, has a longtime connection with the Salvation Army centre in her community. After her nieces and nephews went through the program, Selma was encouraged to enrol her oldest daughter, then later, her two adopted children. While working to take care of a baby and also helping to look after her own mother, Selma was grateful to the Army for giving her children a safe place to be during the day besides roaming the streets. Through a period of unemployment for her husband, the centre provided practical support, such as when the children received regular meals and a Christmas hamper of clothing, footwear and sweets.
Now, Selma’s husband is employed again, and their oldest daughter has grown into a strong woman, while the youngest children still attend programs at the centre. “When I say jokingly that I am going to take them out of the project,” Selma says, “they say, ‘No!’ because they like it very much.” Selma is no longer working, so she attends meetings, lectures and presentations at the centre as well. Now that she is able to participate and spend more time with them, her relationship with her children has grown. Selma is thankful for everything the centre has provided for her as a mother and for her family.
The Salvation Army in Brazil provides hope for a brighter future for many children and families who are at risk in the Vila dos Pescadores community. Through the generous support given through the Brighter Futures Children’s Sponsorship Program, children like Selma’s can learn and play in safe environments and be educated on important social issues that will have a lasting impact on their own lives and in their community.
To help make a difference in the lives of children around the world through the Brighter Futures Children’s Sponsorship Program, visit salvationist.ca/world-missions/brighter-futures.
Robyn Goodyear is the international project support co-ordinator in the world missions department.
Photos: Courtesy Brazil Territory