It was an enormous pleasure to visit one of our church-based partners in Recife, North East Brazil in April. The whole experience was both impacting and inspiring, not least meeting the staff teams running the community-based projects and the children and young people participating.
Instituto Solidare’s office is in the district of Coqueiral, in the city of Recife, which is about 50 minutes from the city centre. Its offices are right next door to the incredibly vibrant Coqueiral Baptist Church.
Recife was founded in 1537, during the early Portuguese colonization of Brazil, as a main harbour and it is now the capital of Pernambuco State, known for its large-scale production of sugar cane. Recife’s 1.5 million inhabitants (3.5 million in the greater metropolitan area) are distributed across rivers, canals and islands.
Sadly, there is a high incidence of poverty and unemployment due to inefficient public policies, unequal distribution of wealth and over population - many families from the very dry countryside (sertão) have moved to Recife in search of a better life and education opportunities for their children.
Their projects started with the vision of the Church’s Pastor José Marcos Silva and his team. He asked his congregation the question: “If the church no longer existed here would that make a difference?” I won’t tell you the answer. Today their projects are serving 1200 children, 800 families and 500 young people. It is a hive of activity and energy.
The projects are punching well above their weight to bring transformation to local people and entire communities. Last year alone, they distributed 19,000 food baskets at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic to low-income families in the area. Happy Child International made a significant contribution to helping with these resources.
The focus of my visit was to meet the young people on the Mentoring and Skills Training Programme, which Happy Child International is supporting. Its vision is to help young people acquire skills for work and get them into the job market. It targets young people from low-income families aged between 16 and 18. This year, over 270 people applied for just 40 places. To be allocated a place is an achievement in itself.
The programme is making a life changing difference, especially when recent research indicates that there are 23 million young people without access to higher education in the country. The barriers to entry are around the pressure to look for work to support family income and often the demand for opportunities exceeds supply. Just one person with full-time employment can help lift a family out of the poverty cycle.
The young people I met were full of life and dynamism, curious, forthright with their questions. They are learning how to build their professional confidence, work together as a team, develop socio emotional skills and develop effective leadership skills.
The programme enables them to do an apprenticeship at a local iron and steel company called Gerdau, either in business administration or industrial mechanics. These apprenticeships open up the chance to secure future employment at the firm or elsewhere. Research indicates that twice as many boys than girls seek work in that part of Brazil. Part of the programme’s vision is to narrow the gender gap locally and recruit as many girls as boys, widening the opportunity for young girls to get into the work place.
I came away inspired reflecting that some of these young people will go on to be leaders in their own communities and will have received an opportunity to better themselves, their families and their communities.
I want to invite you to be a “changemaker” by regularly supporting and promoting the work of Happy Child International.
Thank you for your generous support and interest in Happy Child International’ work.
Written by: Caroline Taylor, Head of Operations – Happy Child International