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Bringing hope and transformation to the Joanna Bezerra community

Updated: May 7

The Joanna Bezerra Community has a history of both struggle and resilience among its over 40,000 inhabitants. One such story is that of Elenice da Conceição, currently 59 years old, who came to live in the community at the age of six. "My mother lived in the city of Surubim, in the interior of Pernambuco. When I was 6 months old, my father kicked everyone out of the house. I don't remember anything, I know this because my mother told me. Because of this, my mother came to Recife and started working as a litter collector to support the family," Elenice recounts.

Elenice's mother became a single mum and found herself solely responsible for taking care of all her children, a reality still faced by 11 million women in Brazil today. Reflecting on her mother's struggle, she says: "My childhood was very difficult, I spent a lot of time with my mother and saw her struggles. I was the youngest and on top of that, I was a girl. She didn't trust anyone to take care of me, so I started working with her when I was still very young. I spent the whole day on the street and didn't have time to go to school. Working to buy food was more important than studying."

Living in extreme vulnerability, Elenice informally married at the age of 13. Her partner was 18 years old. From this union, she bore 4 children. "I met my late husband when I was still a teenager. I moved in with him and soon became pregnant and continued to be a litter collector. After a while, when my eldest was 10 years old, my husband, 28 at the time, was killed.  From that moment I have been taking care of everything by myself."

Elenice was then 24 years old and a single mother of four young children.

The story seemed to be repeating itself. Elenice found herself a single mother and litter collector just like her mum. But her difficult childhood motivated her to break the cycle. "I used to say, 'I will work and give everything I didn't have to my children.' That's why I insisted so much that they all go to school and learn to read and write."

Everything began to change when the family benefited from the Bolsa Escola programme. The federal government encouraged school education by paying a subsidy equivalent of £80 pounds a month. "I remember that moment as if it were yesterday and when the school director called me and asked for our documents to apply for the benefit. It was a blessing!"

Currently, she continues to break cycles. Unlike her mother who remains illiterate, at 58, Elenice decided to study. Today she fulfills her childhood dream through the Ammar Transforma Project – a project supported by Happy Child since 2021. Engaging with the project, she is also moving away from the statistic of 9.6 million Brazilians who cannot read or write. "I found out about literacy classes through my granddaughter. She attends the Ammar Transforma Project. That's how she knew about them. I signed up and I'm learning to read, write, and do maths and have been doing this since 2022. Nowadays, I can already put together some syllables and identify the bus route by their signs."

Elenice, is now a grandmother of 20 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.  She chose to end the negative cycle in her life and bravely face the things that were holding her back: "I will continue studying, I want to be an example for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

  • Written by Eduarda Teixeira

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