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A better future for hundreds of vulnerable children and young people – one man’s triumph.

Happy Child International continues to build important partnerships in the north east of Brazil which will impact the lives of some of this regions most vulnerable children and young people.

We are acheiving this by building meaningful relationships with others who share our vision and passion to transform lives. We want to tell you about a new project that Happy Child International is serving this year. Project Tamandaré. It is located in the coastel town of Tamandare, which is well known for its tourism and beautiful beaches, 100 kilometers from Recife.

The project is reaching and supporting 400 vulnerable children and young people aswell as their families, all of whom come from low income communities in the area. The work is spearheaded by Padre Arlindo, an exceptional individual. We visited the project in February this year and recently interviewed him. Over the next few weeks you can read what has spurred him on, the challenges he has overcome and the transformation he, his team and the local diocese are brining to so many lives.

What is the greatest need in your region in terms of food security? Do you think providing 4 meals a day in the project for the children is better than distributing food baskets to their families ?

I was born in a poor community on the periferies of Olinda, north east Brazil. I remembered when my Dad used to fight with my mum and the conflict at home meant I hid near the cooker. I was about 8 years old. The next day my teacher Aliete noticed I hadn’t done my homework. A lack of food affected my family structure and consequently my education. My Mum suffered domestic violence and lived in distress because of our situation, not for lack of my Dad working, as he had a Newspaper stall, but he wasn’t always able to profit from it, especially in the rainy season. At other times of year like Carnival, New Year and other holiday times he would sell more papers.

At 8 years old I used to help him. My Dad used to drink which was another issue that deeply affected our family. When the teacher realised what was going on at home she bought us a kilo of rice, beans and pasta. My Mum became less agitated as there was food in the house and I started doing my homework again. The same thing happened when I went to work at the gas station14 and I used to swap my days off at Christmas or New Year and received food baskets instead. These food baskets helped keep peace in the home and my Mum was alot less worried. She didn’t row with my Dad and I did my homework.

At Project Tamandaré the children come to us on Monday’s and finish for the week on Friday afternoon’s. They eat 4 or 5 times a day. At the start of the week we offer them light snacks as they eat so much because on Saturday and Sunday’s they may have eaten hardly anything. When the children are on holiday, the parents receive a food basket from us so that they don’t go hungry during the holidays. In my heart I cannot say that basic food baskets are not important because they are.

I am aware that there is a real worry about over assistance creating dependency, but we can’t deny reality. I have witnessed and experienced myself that a well fed child will study better. With no food the family and the child suffers. Other consequences can cause a series of mental health issues that affect the learning process and affect people to the extent that they may want to end their lives. This issue of food insecurity is still impacting the way I live today. Over the last 3 or 4 years we have managed to donate 700 tons of food. My experience is that having enough to eat compliments and is vital for the learning process. Our project gives this support to avoid the home declining into a cycle of misery and violence which I personally have lived through.

Here food insecurity is impacted by the seasonality of Tamandaré which becomes a threat. The diocese had 36 sugar factories and today there are only 3. This is due to the rural exodus and people leaving for the larger cities on the coast.

Low income communities have grown significantly because of this problem. In the north east region, the climate endures 3 or 4 months of rain and then comes the sun and the heat. In the rainy season at the end of April the remaining 3 factories stop working and only start up again in September. In the warmer season, some who have family small holdings sell mangos, pineapple and other things on the roadside to tourists on their way to the beach. The Project supports those who live in the town, but these people who migrate away do not have specialist skills or a profession and live in a culture where “seasonal work” is the norm. Six months earning and six months not earning.

To combat this issue the project offers small training courses collaborating with the training agencies Senac, Sebrae, and Sesi . These courses teach catering skills like waiting on tables, cooking and for taxi drivers some English. This way families can find work in the local tourist industry. The oscillation of the job market in Tamandare generates problems with drink, violence and emotional problems.

Do you think the problem of food security will improve post – pandemic or do you forsee other threats ?

There is hope post pandemic here in Tamandaré. People learn that there is no point in accumulating, that we are finite and many want to create connections with their families. I think more tourists are coming to the area and we hope that this will bring more work. After the pandemic I want to look at life from the perspective of having hope. Looking at life in this way means that I will be that hope in someone’s life by the look I give them, what I say, through a smile or a hug. The only thing that can feed a hungry person is the hope that food will come, then he will not dispair. This same hope helps people to wait for the work that is yet to come and hasn’t arrived, for the summer or the winter that has not yet passed by. I think there has been a shift whereby people can see what is really essential and invest in that.

Our social work is making a difference in the area. Daily, we are attending 400 children aged 2 to 14 years old and a further 100 benefit indirectly from our work. Some of the problems we face are linked to drugs, alcohol and sexual exploitation in tourist areas.

  • Translation by Caroline Taylor

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