09 January 2009

In Country: Meet Anderson

Anderson Soares has been our escort into the favelas the past two days. This is his story: His family has lived in Lagoinha (a favela on the north side of Belo) for 40 years. When Anderson was 9 years old he left the favela and began running the streets of Belo. This is typical for children whose parents are dead or abusive. In Anderson's case, his father is an alcoholic and Anderson was tired of it. So he became a street kid. Since that option seems pretty extreme, one can only imagine the trauma he experienced in his home.

Many street kids turn to sniffing glue, petty theft, drugs and prostitution to stay alive. Others become street corner beggars who supplement their income by scavanging in the garbage for food. School is not even an option for these kids, and without education or skills they are doomed to life such as this.

However when Anderson was 12 years old he met a worker from the Rescue and Restoration House, which is affiliated with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). This is a Christian ministry which has two objectives: prevention and intervention for children of the favelas. If a child wants to get off the street, they first go to the Rescue House for 2 weeks. If a child can abide by the rules at the Rescue House (and some of them cannot), then the child is admitted to the Restoration House. After 3 years on the streets, Anderson made it to the Restoration House where he lived for the next 9 years. Now, as a young adult, he is in training to become a missionary who will go out on the streets and find other children to bring to the Rescue House.

One other important factor for these kids: if a child in Brasil does not speak English, their options are severely limited. Speaking English is a gateway out of poverty, drugs and the favelas so a lot of the work that the Rescue and Restoration House does is to teach the children English and give them job skills for survival when they become adults. Because the children experienced high levels of trauma and abuse while on the streets and in their families, there is also counseling for them. Finally the children are placed in an environment which is safe and welcoming. This physical and emotional stability brings about healing for the children and allows them to find a way out of the cycle of poverty and destruction.

Two days ago we went on a tour of 4 restoration houses in Belo, each of them affiliated with YWAM. The first was the boys house where Anderson and Fernando (from an earlier post) grew up.

The second house we went to was the girls house. Unfortunately the global economic crisis has hit missions particularly hard and the girls house is closing due to lack of financial support. This is a tragedy since some of the girls there are less than 10 years old and literally have no where else to go. Essentially the closing of the girls house ensures them a life of prostitution.

The third house we went to was for street children who have AIDS. Most of these children acquired AIDS from their mothers' during childbirth. The staff are committed to the welfare of the children but they too are concerned about their funding. The staff provide structure and stability, administer medication, and provide transport for these kids. Without this shelter, these children would be dealing with AIDS while living on the streets.

The fourth house we visited was for pregnant women on have come from the street. In many instances, the girls don't even know how they become pregnant because they have never had sex education (or any education for that matter) and so they don't know basic body functions and hygiene issues. Child abandonment is frequent because the girls don't know what to do with the babies once they are born. The house for pregnant street girls seeks to teach the girls parenting skills, financial management skills and pre- and peri-natal skills.

The work that YWAM and the missionaries at these houses are doing is real. If you have ever been cynical about missionaries in foreign countries before, I am a witness. Lives are being changed at the facilities I have visited.

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