Walking the Streets of a Favela with a Community Humanitarian

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office

Editor’s note: Today Nicole concludes her three-part blog series on her visit to a ChildFund project in a Brazilian favela.

favela Brazil urban poverty ChildFund

Homes are literally built into the side of the hill and basically stacked one on top of the other. This is why heavy rains can have catastrophic results.

If I thought the streets were steep and winding when driving to Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz in the Belo Horizonte favela, it was certainly confirmed as we walked to families’ homes. Without exaggeration, I can say we walked up near vertical hills, over paved and dirt roads, down crumbling alleys and through overgrown yards. And that is just a fraction of what our community mobilizers (volunteers) do on any average day. They didn’t spare us the details or the terrain as we literally walked many miles — if not in their shoes then at least along the same paths.

ChildFund povery Brazil favela

Ziza (in purple), who has worked as a community volunteer for more than 10 years, also cares for 13 nieces and nephews.

Our guide was Ziza, a community mobilizer who has volunteered with the organization since November 2000. She goes house to house visiting families to raise awareness about specific ChildFund programs and children’s overall health and well-being. As the mother of a 13-year-old son, Ziza is not shy about broaching the topic of child violence, both within the home and within the community at large. Over the 10 years she has spent volunteering with ChildFund, Ziza has earned a reputation in the community for being a problem solver and a great humanitarian.

Brazil favela poverty ChildFund

Nicole with two of Ziza's nieces.

In fact, she has taken on the personal responsibility of helping raise 13 nieces and nephews. They live with her in her small three-bedroom house — a house with mud-and-stick brick walls and a cement floor. Several of the children share her bed. The most recent to join her is only 3 weeks old. When asked about the heavy burden she has taken on, her response was simple: “I believe greatly in what I do. I don’t see problems, I see future solutions.”

Walking with her, it became clear that Ziza is an important and valued member in the community. People trust her and we were allowed into homes, down alleys and through areas that we would never pass alone. But with her, there was a calm presence and an unspoken respect.

Brazil Favela Belo Horizonte poverty ChildFund

Belo Horizonte spreads out below the favela.

Along the route I chatted with several children:

  • Two boys sat on a partially constructed rooftop perilously perched on the hillside. They told me that they liked the view of Belo Horizonte because one day they hoped to live there. They asked me to join them on the ledge. As I politely declined I must have unwittingly made a funny face. They laughed and came over to give me a high five.
  • One boy who begrudgingly took a break from flying his kite (homemade from plastic trash bags, sticks and an old knotted string rolled around a dented soup can) to tell me about his school — lots of students, some friends, OK teachers. But he said he knew it was important to go, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to grow up strong and smart. He goes to school in the morning shift, does his homework in the afternoon and then flies his kite until his friends come to play.
  • I met a youth who had previously participated in programs at the Conselho de Pais Crianca Feliz center. So I asked him what is the important thing teens need in his community. He shared that he really enjoyed his time at the center (learned to dance and thought it was a great way to stay out of trouble), but that what they needed most now was “job skills and information about reproductive health in order to make better decisions than previous generations.”

We made our way back to the center (slowly — those hills are rough!) and checked in on their systems, processes and audit reports. Yet we kept thinking about the children, families and community because, much like the hokey-pokey, that’s what it’s all about.

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