Stories from the Mission Field

January 2024

Brazil: Where dignity is given value (again)

Life in the social center in Diadema/Brazil

Diadema. A large city south of the giant metropolis of São Paulo. The population density here is particularly high. 70 percent of the city consists of so-called favelas, the slums, often the starting point for drug dealing and crime. Since 2002, the social center has been an important point of contact for children, young people and parents to receive support in all areas of life. Young people and adults can now take part in free certified courses to qualify for vocational training, particularly in IT and carpentry.

Monday lunchtime. It is bustling and teeming with children. One by one, they stream out of the school and into their rooms, towards their supervisors, bumping into each other, shouting, screaming, romping, laughing - just what children do. Some of them did not go to school and are just as welcome. These were and are the poorest of the poor to whom the social center in Diadema provides services. And their parents too.

Arriving in Diadema

Roberta (name changed) is also there on this Monday afternoon. She is 14 years old and attending for the first time. She seems shy and anxious. Everything and everyone is strange to her. Nevertheless, she dares to smile gently. Her heart aches because life scares her and she suffers from depression. No one really knows how long she has been depressed or why exactly. Only Roberta herself knows how she feels. In her childhood, she lived with her grandmother. Her mother's mother. She loves and admires her very much. But she is now far away, as her family has moved to Diadema. Here at the social center, the teachers and carers quickly notice that the reserved girl needs special attention, care and protection. They have a keen sense and an experienced eye for the subtle nuances of the children's souls. Because in all their work, one thing is important to them: respecting the dignity of each individual and helping the children to discover and protect their worth. Through the activities on offer, the children and young people learn how to move in this world. This includes courses in which the young people learn to perceive and express their own feelings in an age-appropriate way. They practice conflict resolution, reflect on life and death and learn about their rights and duties as citizens of the country. Children's days are also organized, birthdays and parties are celebrated and creative workshops on various topics are offered. There are also tips on how to deal well with social media and much more.

A new start

Roberta's parents were not there to protect her from the dangers of the internet. They had divorced when she was still a child. She was often alone and felt neglected. Her relationship with her mother, with whom she has lived for several years, is not good. Roberta finds it difficult to confide in her. She feels that her mother is not really there for her. And so Roberta loses herself in her sadness more and more often in the vastness of the internet. It was just a harmless game she was playing on her cell phone. Suddenly, one click lands her on another site. She met a man via a chat and came into contact with pornography. She learned that abuse is also possible via the internet. She tried to commit suicide several times, but she is still here. Still alive. And in good hands at the social center. Even though she finds it difficult to settle into her new school, Roberta quickly makes friends in the social center's volleyball course. She feels that the exercise and the community are good for her. The others in the team also like her. She would never have thought that. She also receives medication and psychotherapeutic treatment. All of this helps to bring light into the darkness of her soul.

Touching Life - touched by life

In the Touching Life program, Roberta receives additional support and help. Together with other teenagers, she spends a year learning to think intensively about herself. The group becomes a safe space for her. She feels welcome just as she is. Over time, she gains confidence and opens up. Especially towards herself. She reflects a lot on her childhood, life with her grandmother and the painful separation of her parents. In the group, she learns that she is valuable and lovable - even with the pain and suffering she has experienced. She feels that the heaviness becomes lighter and has much kinder thoughts about herself than before. Roberta plucks up the courage to shape her own life. Everyone in the group has matured during the year and has been able to apply much of what they have learned to their own lives. This development touches the caregivers and makes them grateful. Roberta really appreciates the peace and friendliness of the staff. This also makes her mother happy.

Director Simone Heimann Almeida sums up what Roberta and the many children, young people and families experience at the social center: "The facility is like a lighthouse in the neighborhood that lights up the darkness. Everyone who is taken in, cared for and welcomed can experience that this place is overflowing with peace, love and security."

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