Ademir Fernando, 53 years old, is a friendly gentleman whose life is a living testimony to the fact that fatherhood can be a driving force leading one to persevere even when curve balls are shot in your direction.
When I visited the family, back in October 2021, what I saw gave me ample evidence that this family had a dream for their son. Mother wanted her son to become a musician, father wanted his son to become a soccer player. They both wanted their only son to succeed in life, to rise above their own station and to be an upstanding citizen. We don’t often encounter such clear definitions from parents about their own children’s future.
Leonel didn’t mind. We could see he was having fun as the parents talked about all the different plans and strategies they had employed over time. In the end, he said, he had benefitted because he belonged to a volleyball club and could play the violin to his own heart’s content.
But the story that took front stage in our visit, corroborated with a bullet that was passed around for us to examine, was the story of the time the father was hit by a stray bullet and had to be whisked away to the emergency room.
Ademir Fernando, 40 years old at the time, was coming home from work at the same unfortunate time the police and a drug trafficking gang were exchanging fire, a few blocks from his home. One of these shots hit Fernando from behind. The bullet did not exit his body and he lost a lot of blood. The medical staff at the emergency room decided he needed to regain some of his strength before being submitted for surgery to remove the bullet, besides, there were risks relating to nerve damage.
And so, the long wait started. There were all kinds of roadblocks to his surgery, scheduling problems, red tape, changes related to medical team, interrogations about what had happened. In a case like this, it would be better for the police if he were implicated in drug trafficking. No, he was most definitely not! He was one more victim of the ongoing battle for dominance between police and drug trafficking gangs in the poorer neighbourhoods of Recife, PE.
Even though he had a six month leave of absence to present to his employer, after a month of postponements, Fernando decided to go back to work. He was a worker involved in logistical operations and to reach his job he needed to travel about 30 km by bus. But, he reasoned, “I will not risk my job and my family’s livelihood because of this.” Despite the pain, despite the open wound, despite the risk of having his situation worsened, he returned to his job.
A few weeks after his return, on the way to work, he felt something bulging out from his backside and low and behold, the bullet came out! Two days later, he got the call to go into surgery. To his doctor’s utter amazement, Fernando said “No need, the bullet is right here in my hands.”
Father, son, mother chuckle as they remember. Such are the dramas of life around here, they seem to say.
This week, we reached out to Leonel. He is now employed by Gerdau, a partner to the Mentoring and Skills Training Programme supported by Happy Child International and run by Instituto Solidare in Recife, Brazil. He is not heading to become a professional soccer player or a world-renowned musician. Instead, he is pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. He is very happy with his choices, very happy with all the opportunities* his parents sought for him.
Of his father, he said:
“I am taking with me into my adult life everything my father taught me. I want to pass it on to my own son, because my father has a lot of life lessons to teach. He grew up very poor and made his life’s mission to not let anyone in his family suffer what he had to endure. He visits my grandmother every day and asks if she needs anything. He helps his brother because my uncle is not able to provide for himself. He is strict with me because he knows I have potential to grow. I don’t deserve what I have but first God and then my parents put me here, encouraging me to take every opportunity.”
*One of the opportunities Leonel took full advantage of was the technical program in industrial mechanical engineering, an opportunity open to him through the Mentoring and Skills Training Program.
Written by Elsie Gilbert