I don’t know the exact year, but this tale takes place about 27 years ago when I was preparing for a national telethon in Toronto for the charitable organization, World Vision. Part of that preparation was to go to Brazil with a camera crew and witness firsthand some of the projects that were in place.
One project was a women’s and children’s medical clinic. Operating costs and costs of the medications were all supplied by churches and charitable groups. Another project supplied medical help for families living in a garbage dump. It was an old-fashioned dump where trucks backed in and emptied garbage onto a big pile. None of the sorting we do at home. The families thought they had died and gone to heaven as it gave them a daily source of food. They would pick through the garbage and anything that hadn’t spoiled would be their supper. There just wasn’t the social safety net available for them that we enjoy here. In some areas, a glass of clean water was a luxury.
The project that really tugged at my heartstrings was a visit to a daycare centre situated in a Favela, high above Ipanema. A Favela is the name for a slum in Brazil. Favelas are usually situated on a steep hillside, and economically the reverse of what we have here. The farther up the hillside you go, the poorer you are. In our terms, the top of the British Properties would be the poorest of people, because the farther up you go, the further you are to a source of water, sanitation systems, jobs, and schooling.
At the daycare centre the children received t-shirts and shorts and also a daily snack, for some, it was probably the only meal of the day. It was there that I met our Sponsor Child. It was tough to communicate with him as everything had to go through a translator. As you might imagine, my Portuguese isn’t very strong.
There was also a 10 or 11-year-old girl that seemed to act as “Mother Hen.” She followed us around and made sure all the kids were behaving. Once we had finished our tour of the Day Care Centre, I asked the interpreter if my sponsor child could show me where he lived. He agreed, and the little girl came with us. She knew where he lived, and showed me the way.
We wandered down a dirt path and eventually arrived at the cinder block shanty that he called home. Half the roof was corrugated metal, the other half was open to the sky, 3 rooms with dirt floors, a couple of mattresses, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and an open fire for cooking.
I met my sponsor boy’s sister. She was about 16 years old and was looking after her brother and 3 other siblings. I asked where her parents were, and through the interpreter, she said that (due to a domestic violence issue), their Mom was in the hospital and Dad was in jail. As I looked around the kitchen area there were blackened pots and pans and a few plates and cups, but noticeably no food! I asked where they kept the food. The answer was, they didn’t have any. No food! Five kids, no parents, and no food! I asked if there was a grocery store nearby. There was, and off we went, the interpreter, the little girl, and me.
We got to the store and my little helper seemed to understand what was going on. She led me up and down the 2 or 3 aisles of the little grocery store and we filled our hand baskets. We took as much as the 3 of us could carry back to my sponsor boy’s home. We left the groceries with the older sister and headed back to the daycare centre. As we were walking back, the interpreter thanked me for getting the food for the kids but doubted there would be much left by the next day. She said that there had been eyes watching us take the food into the house and figured that it would probably be stolen. I could only hope not!
We got back to the daycare, loaded the truck with our camera gear, and got ready to leave. As we were about to drive away, I rolled down the window to say goodbye to the little girl who had been stuck to me like glue for our whole visit. She was such a little doll, and I wanted to take her away from this Favela and give her the kind of life my kids had back home, but I knew it wasn’t possible.
As the truck was about to pull away, what happened next is something I’ll never forget. That little girl with big brown eyes looked up at me and in a tiny voice in English said, “Thank you.”
Till next week...
Kids, Typical street scene in the favela, garbage dump, Favela
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