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Mrs. ‘Mariana’

August 26, 2014

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‘Mrs. Mariana’ is a resident in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city of Fortaleza, named ‘Conjunto Palmeiras’.  She has two children, whom we will call ‘Fernando’ and ‘Adriano’, and lives in a house with her husband (whom she married at the age of 16 – her husband being 47 at the time) and children in two rooms.

As a result of a fire 15 years ago, forcing the family to live in a tent for many years, the family lost all of their documents and were unable to register the birth of their children.  Add to this that the hospital where the children were born also lost all documentation and, as a result, public departments have denied her requests to register the children as being hers.

Because of this lack of documentation, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Adriano’ were prevented from attending school and accessing basic healthcare, even though the law guarantees access to education.

(Hearing this was another indication that this was a forgotten area / people in the city of Fortaleza, in addition to the evident lack of policing in the area as encountered earlier that day).

Given this, and the lack of income that the family generates collecting recycling, the only group that would accept the family – the two young men, specifically – were the gangs, as “Mrs Mariana’ stated ‘they did not require documentation’.  Her eldest, ‘Fernando’, is currently involved in drug trafficking with one of the area gangs as a result.

 

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After being made aware of the situation with ‘Mrs. Mariana’, and the child exploitation her sons were experiencing as laborers (they must also work to provide for their family), the World Vision project facilitator began the process of guaranteeing rights for ‘Mrs. Mariana’s’ family.

“These people have rights, and you have duties”, World Vision staff Marcia and Kezia said to administration at the local school. 

“But, without documentation, we will not register these boys”, was the response received. 

‘Mrs. Mariana’, Marcia and Kezia did not accept this response, and soon ‘Adriano’ (the youngest of the two boys) was enrolled in school and removed from the potential exploitation of being a child-laborer.  The World Vision office also helped get ‘Mrs. Mariana’ her civil ID and birth certificate, providing access to healthcare, engaged with a Public Attorney to assist in obtaining documentation for the children, and walked alongside the family as her husband found new employment as a night watchman, providing additional income for the family.

‘Mrs. Mariana’ expressed how she now has new plans and dreams:  to get her children birth certificates (so they can have access to all rightful services), to go back to school herself (‘I need to be at the same level my children are!), and to send her son, ‘Fernando’, into drug rehabilitation.

Thanks to the support of donors from around the globe, Marcia and the World Vision team will be with her every step of the way as she attempts to fulfil those dreams…

 

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Note:  This testimony reflects the sad reality of 6200 children from Fortaleza who still lack forms of documentation (even though it is now offered for free – given most do not have this type of documentation due to the high costs and requirement to travel to government offices until recently).  World Vision is working with the government of Brazil and Fortaleza to bring in mobile birth certificate stations so that these individuals – who have no access to eduction and health support – can receive their basics of life (and legal ‘worth’) once their paperwork is completed…

 

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“There has been a change in plans.”

August 26, 2014

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As we pulled up to the World Vision offices, it struck me that we ‘stood out’.  That we were no longer in our comfortable communities in Canada.  That we had exited what, for most of us, would have been our  comfort zones.

We exited our vehicle and entered the small, bare offices, and grabbed a chair to hear the story of ‘Mrs. Mariana’ (name altered to protect), a woman who had overcome the many obstacles that residents in the area face with the help of World Vision and it’s donors.

As we awaited the start of the telling of her story, I had noticed there was additional activity in the entrance and office areas, but did not think anything of it.

‘Perhaps someone from the community is needing assistance, and Marcia (a regional leader with World Vision) was facilitating aid’, I thought.

At that moment I was, once again, overwhelmed with pride to be part of this worldwide organization – and that here in the heart of the poorest of the poor in Brazil, individuals like Marcia were sacrificing their lives as part of God’s call on their lives to serve those in need.

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As our voices filled the room, Marcia returned and – in a calm voice that I would later identify as part of her training as a relief worker in this region – advised us simply:

“There has been a change in plans…”

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She went on to advise us to collect our personal items, and that we would be moving to a World Vision office on the other side of the community.  Although it struck me as a bit of an inconvenience, we picked up our things and headed to our vehicle.

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Once we were in the van, and the doors closed, Renata pulled away from the office and Marcia continued to speak.

“We are moving the location for our time together because of a situation that occurred during our brief time together this morning.  One of the gang leaders in our community (whom she then named) was made aware of your visit this morning, and stopped by the office while you were waiting for us to start.  That is why the commotion and delay.”

“He walked into the entrance of our office, looked around, saw you…and left.  We know what he left to do”

She continued.  “This gang leader is out getting others to return to the office.  We know what he is capable of, and have called the police to monitor the situation.  This is why we are leaving…”

The words sunk in, as she continued to explain.  A police car met us on the road as we left the area, evidently heading into the community at the request of Marcia and the World Vision team.

“The police do not patrol this area, so they will drive by the World Vision office to ensure all is fine.  They will not stop in, as those who alert the police to gang activity will be harmed if found out.”

Pardon me?

The reality of what was just said sunk in to the team, as we all looked at each other with varying expressions and unspoken disbelief.

 

“Mrs. Mariana” and her youngest son, ‘Adriano’ (also changed for protection) were in the back seat of our vehicle, bouncing along as we were on the streets leaving the danger that we had just been so skill-fully protected and removed from by our Marcia and her team.

I said a prayer of thanksgiving, handed ‘Adriano’ one of the candies in my back pack that my children had sent along to hand out during my visit to Brazil, and sunk into my seat as we drove away….

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Transition

August 26, 2014

As our driver, Renata, navigated the (mostly) nameless streets between our accommodations and our first stop in the Pantanal Area Development Program – which is run in partnership with CoNVida (a council of Brazil churches in the region) in the south region of Fortaleza – it became clear that we were travelling into one of the poorest regions in the city of Fortaleza…

 

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Note:  The photos are limited – and all taken from our vehicle – given we travelled without stops between our accommodations and the World Vision offices.

 

We were also about to discover – on a personal level – some of the realities that those working in this ‘forgotten area’ of the city are required to deal with on a daily basis as they serve those in need…

 

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The ‘Real’ Deal

August 25, 2014

 

The Real

During our visit to Brazil, we carried a currency called ‘real’ (/rˈɑːl/; Brazilian Portuguese: [ʁeˈaw]; pl. reais) for use during our travels.

To convert these funds from USD (which we were advised has a better exchange in most of the currency conversion centers) to reais, a currency rate of 2,05 was used, minus the ‘tarifa’.

(Note the comma versus a decimal point used in currency and general numeration – which caused some confusion in our documentation provide and required me to correct an earlier post on this blog after I noted the error.)

It was interesting to note that not all bills of similar value were the same size – indicated to assist the visually impaired – although I found the same bills often in two sized.  This is potentially due to the relative infancy of the introduction of the currency (the real was introduced in 1994, when it replaced the old currency, the ‘cruzeiro’, as part of efforts aimed to put an end to three decades of rampant inflation).  The real is subdivided into 100 centavos (“hundredths”).  In Portuguese the word “real” means both “royal” and “real”.

 

An example of the prices of items, taken from a receipt I found in my wallet, would be as follows:

Café Joia Organico 250 G:  6,79 (coffee package, approx. $3.31 USD)

Doce Leite Itambe 395 G: 4,89 (Dolce da Leche can, approx. $2.38 USD)

Geleia Goiaba Predilecta 230G: 4.19 (Guava Berry Jam, approx. $2.04 USD)

 

For the complex story on how the real was introduced, including about 4 changes in currency over a 10 year period, visit ttp://www.v-brazil.com/information/currency.html

 

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Eminaly

August 14, 2014

Following an emotional farewell, we walked up the dry, parched path to our vehicle to start our six-hour return to Fortaleza (with some rock climbing adventure courtesy of one of our team members, George) to visit some of our urban projects, and took some to take in some final moments in this barren – yet beautiful – area).

As we made the drive back, there was heightened chatter in the vehicle as we discussed our experiences, followed by a deep silence as we reflected on a deeper level (with several drifting off to sleep).  As we travelled, I sorted through my photos on my camera and reflected on the personalities and individuals we had met during our time with the Morning Star ADP team.

One of those individuals being Eminaly.

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A team of Canadians had travelled to this area a few months prior, and Don (our team leader) had let this team as well.  He had shared with us his experiences with Eminaly prior – a young girl at this project who, as was the case with Tiago, was dealing with additional challenges in the midst of her poverty.  Eminaly was diagnosed at an early age with Down Syndrome.

Eminaly was waiting with the children as we entered the grounds of the ‘Bar da Manguira’, and leaped up with excitement when Don entered the area and ran towards him.  As Don twirled her around, she gave him a big hug and smiled BIG for my camera – posing in the process.

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In reflection on our visit as we made our way back to the urban center of Fortaleza, it struck me that – at times – I overlook the human component involved in the work of community development.  We know it is important to provide education, nutrition, water, child protection and many of the other complex components required for this effective developmental work, but it is so much more than that.  It’s human interaction and emotion.  It’s…love.

As Eminaly performed her special musical number, I looked over at Don and saw his gaze unbroken – a smile on his face.  I looked at Eliane, the leader of this amazing group of individuals serving the needs of the community as part of World Vision, standing beside her – coaching her on, and dancing alongside.  And, as I left, Eminaly ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and gave me a BIG hug (the only way I believe she knows how to given them).

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I challenged myself, on that bumpy ride out of the area as we made our way onto the highways leading towards Fortaleza, to never lose the human component of the work that we do.

Eminaly, Tiago, Eliane and the team at ADP ‘Morning Star’ will forever remind me of this.

 

One more time, Eminaly.  Share your joy with us one…more…time.

(Email subscribers, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4GozI5e0Eg for the video)

 

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‘Final Considerations’ – Estrela da Manhã ADP

August 14, 2014

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Following the visit to the Mango Trees Park area and the performances by the children, we gathered back at the Xique-Xique Project (‘Projeto Xique-Xique’) for a time of reflection and discussion with the team from the Morning Star ADP.

During and informal discussion around the MJPOP and volunteer work of the program, along with the presentation of items from our Canadian Team to the leadership of the ‘Morning Star’ ADP (including soccer balls, which the leader of our Canadian team, Don, had opportunity to kick back and forth with our new friends), the emotions came to the surface around the challenges – and triumphs – that this project was facing.

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It is visibly difficult for Eliane and the team to see the current needs within their community, and their plea was to advise Canadians that their support of projects such as theirs is so important – and by sharing this time with Eliane we were able to see this to an even greater extent.  Over 2,360 children are currently being sponsored in this community since World Vision began it’s work in the community in 2008, with over 50 communities similar to this receiving the benefit!

For those supporting organizations such as World Vision Canada, you are making a difference.  And your gifts are appreciated by those who are working in the field.  If you have ever questioned this, our visit with Eliane and the team made the impact of the response of individuals like you evident to all.

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Tiago

August 13, 2014

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As we took in the festivities at the Mango Trees Park, my eyes were drawn to a young boy who was holding the hand of one of the World Vision workers on the sidelines of the activities.  As the children gathered in front of the stage, this little boy caught my attention given he did not join his peers.

I made my way over to the worker, and in my best attempt to ask, I asked ‘Chamas’ (name)? The worker responded with ‘Tiago’. His mother was sitting behind his modified wheel chair, and this little boy gazed in random directions for periods of time, eventually landing onto my gaze.  Tiago and his family had evidently been given an additional challenge outside of the others within the community – an evident physical disability.

I had recalled from past discussions and experiences that one of the best ways to attempt to communicate with individuals with similar symptoms is to attempt to catch – and hold – the gaze of the individual. Against my standard response to invent activity in an extended moment of silence – be it a photo opportunity, an injection of humor, or some other distraction – I simply held his gaze. For what was a brief moment, I looked deep into those dark pupils of his – as he stared into my eyes for what was seconds – but felt like an eternity.

Tiago, you and your family have someone praying for you here in Canada.  What an impact it was to have those few moments with you – and to have opportunity to connect briefly throughout the afternoon.  I will forever remember the squeeze of your hand, the smile on your face, and that moment of gazing into your eyes…

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