A REPORT BY THE U.S. DELEGATION
AT THE FOURTH NATIONAL MEETING OF
The Brazil Project of The International Child Resource Institute
1810 Hopkins Street
Berkeley, CA 94110 USA
2017 Mission Street, Suite 303
San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
In October of 1995 the Brazilian National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR) held the Fourth National Meeting of Street Children and commemorated its 10 years of existence. Approximately 850 young activists and 100 educators from every corner of Brazil gathered in Brasília-DF to demand immediate improvements in the Brazilian educational system. Several other countries were represented by its delegations of youth and adults, such as Spain, Canada, France, England, Netherlands, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and the US.
The Brazil Project of the International Child Resource Institute (ICRI), in conjunction with Global Exchange, organized the US Delegation to attend the meeting. The group departing from the U.S. was formed by students, researchers, youth activists, and child advocates. Back in the US, the group shared its experience with professors, students and friends at the Bolivar House, Stanford University.
The Movement is a grassroots and nongovernmental organization working to support children and adolescents in their own struggle to secure their constitutional rights to full citizenship.
In the early 80s, Brazilian children's rights advocates from grassroots organizations, governmental child welfare agencies and different religious groups formed a network of alternative programs assisting street children. At that time in Brazil there were two different approaches and practices ment's repressive approach produced a violent environment and created a vicious cycle of criminality. Institutional programs isolated poor children and adolescents from their community by confining them in 'reformatory' institutions. To say the least, the wholesale institutionalization of the children of the poor was inefficient, expensive and extremely unjust.
Alternative community programs disseminated the vision that children are developing human beings with rights to full citizenship. They now provide street children with conditions to formulate solutions for their problems within the context of their own environment. Children are subjects in history and should, therefore, have a voice. The empowerment of disadvantaged youth came hand-to-hand with an emerging nation-wide movement for the rights of children.
Educators and activists engaged in the development of the latter approach established a nation-wide communication web through meetings and seminars. The goal was to learn from new experiences and promote exchange. The exchange among several alternative programs resulted in a constant merging of experiences as well as in a deeper reflection upon their own practices. This process forged the creation of a national movement, the MNMMR. In synthesis, the Movement was created in 1985 by a coalition of individuals who believe that children should actively participate in decision-making processes which affect their own lives.
The Movement was formed with the following objectives:
-To secure children's right to full citizenship
-To encourage Brazilian youth to participate and reflect in search of solutions for their problems
-To encourage the organization and education of youth, mainly street boys and girls
-To form a focal point for the organization of a network of educators, activists and alternative programs to promote and defend children's rights
-To actively participate in the elaboration of laws and public policies regarding the welfare of Brazilian youth
-To raise awareness and denounce children's rights violations
To date, the Movement's network is comprised of over 2000 adult educators/activists and reach approximately 6000 children and adolescents throughout the country. About 3000 youth activists are officially affiliated with the Movement. In addition to its headquarters based in Brasília-DF, the Movement has offices in all but three Brazilian states.
By Bonnie Hayskar
The situation for Brazil's street children had frustrated and angered me for years, but I only knew the story through the media not first-hand. Millions out on the streets, hundreds murdered every year--did people there just not care about children? Having worked on behalf of street kids in Central America and Mexico for many years, I was thankful for the opportunity to be part of a US delegation to the National Meeting of Street Boys and Girls in Brazil. It was to be surprising.
The conference was at once a humbling experience and an enlightening one. Humbling because of the considerable personal and programmatic concern in Brazil for its 6 million or more street children, and the political savvy of the kids themselves. The enlightening part was "how" they do it. Despite the nearly insurmountable problems in Brazil, the organizational approach being developed there may, in fact, be a model for serving the world's children.
Perhaps the salient difference in approach between Brazil and other countries dealing with increased numbers of street children is that Brazil's 10-year-old National Movement of Street Boys and Girls (MNMMR) and its fourth national meeting were "of" the children--not "for" them or "about" them. It wasn't a group of adults sitting around in well-padded, high-rise, help-the-children offices with ideas about what's "best for Brazil's street children." It was Brazil's street children themselves talking pragmatically about what's best for them--talking to each other from nearly all states in the country and talking--thanks to extensive national media coverage--to the nation. Politicians of every description, from municipal to national leaders, variously spoke to and listened to the children. Would it be possible in the US for political entities and a hundred or more NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to actually discuss with the children what needs to be done rather than dictating it to them; and then work together to accomplish it rather than compete with one another for the money to fund it?
"We want education to be citizens," the kids told the world. And further, they want enforcement of the children's human rights legislation they presented four years ago at their last meeting, which the National Assembly passed but has never adequately enforced. The plea wasn't made by just a busload of sign-carriers camped on the capitol lawn. No, these kids came to the halls of the National Assembly and presented their case directly to the government. The vice president of the country presided as the nation's legislative commission for children and adolescents heard the petition and accompanying testimony of the children themselves. In the audience were about 850 street kids elected by other street children to represent them. They brought some of their friends: another 100 or so professional street educators and program administrators from throughout Brazil, along with international delegates/observers from Europe and the Americas, to remind the Brazilian government that more than just the children are watching. At the same time, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso received MNMMR representatives in his office. Would it be possible in the US for children of the poor to physically march into our Congress and tell our government about their lives and influence policy? Where was real democracy at work?
The kids all carried briefcases--a gift from one of Brazil's corporate foundations--and when they went to a workshop it was called an "office." They were at the meeting to do business. Adults in attendance were allowed to sit-in, but not encouraged to participate. The spotlight was on the young people and it was their opportunity to express themselves. Topics covered issues from AIDS to cultural heritage to legal defense. There was music and dance, drums and chants, costumes and art--and most importantly, camaraderie. Despite the adversity in their everyday existence, the coming together of the children was a celebration of survival. How could we engender in US children the ability to approach the "reality" of their lives with such joyful enthusiasm?
For me personally two experiences are most memorable. The first is the actual time spent individually with many of these young men and women. It reminded me again of a passage from "Children in Danger" about a street child: "That he is managing is wonderful. But the strength he demonstrates in coping with catastrophic adversity predicts that he would have been a remarkable child had he been permitted to live whole, in peace." It was repeatedly clear that these children have tremendous potential to contribute to society--and much of it is being destroyed.
The second recollection is of the concert in the National Theater. All that evening I wondered what this would be like for those in the audience who were 16 or 17 and had slept in a cardboard box since they left home or were abandoned at age four or five. Young people whose lives had been, and perhaps still are, relegated to prostitution or thievery or begging--were all dressed up in clean clothes, comfortable on the velvet seats of the magnificent National Theater. The National Orchestra was in the pit, the country's best talent on-stage, performing just for them. For at least a little while these several hundred children were accorded the honor and human dignity rightfully theirs every day of their lives. In their midst was the First Lady of the country shaking their hands, completely surrounded by street kids. Would it be possible in the US for children of the poor from across the nation to be feted by our finest orchestra in our grandest concert hall, elbow to elbow with Hillary Clinton?
And what of us adults from the so-called "developed countries" who are so ignorant of what is being done for children in the developing world? Well, perhaps we need education to become citizens, too--citizens of the world. Brazil has begun to provide some of those lessons. It would be a good idea for us to pay attention.
By Aurora Guerrero & Valeria Wilson
Traveling to Brazil was a dream come true for us as young women of color coming from poor, working class backgrounds. Originally, our work with Kellogg Koshland Youth Leadership Program (KKYLP) had assigned us as youth representatives to the International Women's Conference in Beijing, China. We are accustomed to traveling and providing other communities with models of leadership that emphasize developing safe spaces where we as young people can heal from our experiences and find our voices that are often hurried under heavy, concrete rubble. We strongly believe in the 'popular process' as it has transformed our own lives and provided a self-empowerment that has taken us to places that we thought we could never [re]create in ourselves and around us. Of course, we were both elated to have an opportunity to go across seas to China and learn form other women who seek to reach a liberation that we also hunger for. Interestingly enough, a week later our program director approached us with a second option--to experience the land that has mothered the theories of liberation that we practice at KKYLP--Brazil. Naturally, both of us being of Latina descent felt a beckoning call, however, what attracted us more to this option was the youth movement that is already established and obviously flourishing with a fourth Encontro organized by youth for youth to speak in tongues, as they are provided a space where they can fin each other through their stories and expose themselves to resources that will only strengthen their unfortunate journey's as second class citizens in a third world country. We were both overly anxious to share our struggles and to learn from theirs.
Brazil came and we can both honestly say it opened our eyes to a world that neither of us had ever imagined existed. We are not referring to the world of oppression because the both of us have had our share of pain, but more we mean the world that the young people of Brazil so graciously invited us into. We never felt necessary out of place throughout the Encontro, aside from the language barrier--being young and Latina definitely allowed us to a trust with the youth that soon developed into relationships. About the third night of the Encontro when the mutual ritual of peeping from under our eyelashes just to get a glance of our familiar faces passed, we began to exchange stories of our lives. These talks first began with giggles and beautiful smiles that squeezed out an occasional joke or two. Then, among an array of issues we talked about police brutality, family abuse, poverty, and education. Our realization was that we found more similarities then differences. Once we established a ground in which we found ourselves seeing eye to eye, Valeria and I began to hear about the Movement in Brazil has given them the courage to speak out against the government and have actually provided themselves with the power to change the inequalities they experience on a daily basis; while they heard how our lack of a youth movement in the U.S. has been one of our demises in reaching social, political, and civil freedom.
There was no noticeable level of apathy in the eight to eighteen year old or even in the adults that came to the Encontro. In speaking to some of the educators and young adult coordinators, we found that in almost every region of Brazil a community of young people has formed in response to the violence against them. And as it was modeled at the Encontro, these communities are built using a form of education that goes against the institutionalized education that these children are fighting to change. One of the educadoras shared with us a secret one day when the rains came to visit the Encontro, she stated, "You never separate the arts from education, it is what is indigenous to us and it is here where they find their voices." Yes, Yes! we responded to her, as we explained how we tried to model this in our own program in the U.S.. It was amazing to see the workshops that soon after unraveled before us--dancing, video, mask making, acrobatics, drumming, etc.. This is where they learned about themselves and shared it with each other. What happened in that main tent when all of the workshops came to exhibit themselves is indescribable, though the both of us knew that what we were seeing unravel before us was a dream that we have always desired to see happen back in the States--unity. American school administrators, teachers, students, need to take notes and follow these true examples of leadership and survival. They have seen more change then we have and our situation is not as drastic. We (Valeria, Aurora) is anything have become more humble in our ways of teaching, because we know that our eight year old brothers and sisters in Brazil carry more knowledge and passion for organizing then any group that exist here in the U.S..
By Jim Senter
As a long-time child rights activist, I went to Brazil with this question in mind: How is the National Movement of Street Children able to mobilize the most disenfranchised and marginalized segment of the population into a political force to be reckoned with? And lets be clear on this point. Despite the holdovers from 24 years of dictatorship that have institutionalized extra-legal violence as an aspect of society, and the entrenched economic/political elites that profit from policies that create the poverty that drives kids to the street, despite all the reactionary elements in Brazilian society, The National Movement is a progressive force that cannot be ignored.
At the foundation of the movement are the nucleo de base, the nucleus groups. These are the grassroots groups of street children who come together to fill their common needs, for things like security, food, companionship etc.
The formation of these groups is catalyzed by people called street educators. Many street educators are themselves former street children who grew up in the movement and continue in movement activities. These movement workers go through a 6 month training period where, among other things, their fear of the other (the street kids) and their motivations for doing this work are examined. Selfish motives, acting out of personal needs (such as the need to be a savior) are discouraged. The street educators go to where the children are in the street, to the markets where they work or the corners where they gather, and talk to them about what they need. Bene Dos Santos, one of the founders of the Movement, talks about this process and his time as a street educator in the city of Goiania:
We have lunch together and we share food. They [street children] have to learn this. They eat as if they will never see food again. When I was working in Goiania, I bought food for a week and we had to sit down and plan how we were going to use that food. We did that and the first, the second day: no more food. They ate a lot--everything. And so. I have no more money for food. What's gonna happen here? We have to decide. So they come to understand about planning, about working together. From planning a weeks meals, thinking an where these same children lobby the nations legislature and organize international meetings like the one we traveled to Brazil to take part in. By approaching street kids as part of the solution, instead of a problem, the Movement is able to utilize these peoples tremendous enthusiasm, energy and creativity. From what I have seen, this is one source of the Movements success.
In this emphasis on dialogue, on tapping the intelligence of street kids as a source of solutions, one sees the influence of the philosophy of Brazilian activist and educator Paulo Freire. Those interested in the theoretical foundation of the Movement would do well to check out Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness. Both of these books are available in English translations.
Another reason for the Movements success in putting street children on Brazil's political agenda is the cooperative and congenial relationship between the movement and government agencies. Even though the movement struggles against government officials who refuse to prosecute child murderers and police departments that stall investigations, there is a willingness to use the government as a tool for positive change where such engagement stands a chance of having an effect.
Movement people make up a large portion of the membership of the Children's Rights Councils. These councils were set up at the state, regional and national level by the 1990 revision of the Children's Statutes. They are made up of equal numbers of government representative and members of non-governmental organizations such as the Movement of Street Children. The purpose of these councils is to design and implement policies to protect the rights of children as defined in the Children's Statute. The presence of members of the Movement on these councils insure that the concerns and voices of street children will be heard.
The last thing I want to mention has already been mentioned in my companions reports; that is the international involvement. The people from France, Italy, Canada, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, and England who attended the Convention of Street Children represent a worldwide network of child rights workers. When called on, this network can flood the offices of judges and ambassadors with letters. The Brazilian government, wishing to maintain the idea that it has successfully made the transition from dictatorship to democracy, is sensitive to international opinion. In this way, requests and demands made by people in Brazil are amplified.
It is impossible to describe in a few words the structure and activities of something as complex as Brazil's National Movement of Street Children. That having been said, I believe that the three elements outlined here, the national network of grassroots youth groups, the constructive engagement with government agencies where appropriate, and the support from organizations in other countries, represent lessons which child rights activists in the United States can benefit from.
By Jennifer Sanders
The rally cry of the National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR) was soon learned by all, "Quero educacao para ser cidadao," I want education so that I can be a citizen.
We stood amongst the leaders of the child-activist groups from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, Goias, Ceara and all but three of Brazil's states. The leaders represented those children who work and live on the streets and those who had died on the streets. This is the message that these courageous leaders traveled for thousands of kilometers to give:
If we steal, we steal only to eat--should we pay with our lives? We would like to play and have fun. We would like to go to school. We would like to sleep on clean sheets and to have warm blankets for cover. Would you not give these things to your own precious children? Well we are your children because we are the children of Brazil.
In between the marches, speeches and workshops, the children had the opportunity...well, to be kids. The older boys from Bahia and Espirito Santo instructed the younger ones in the arts of Capoeira and drumming. The delegates from Pernambuco adorned themselves in their frevo costumes: strips of bright satin sewn together into short twirling skirts, poofy-sleeved half tops and rainbow parasols. They then commenced to dance. Handsome Paulistas (from Sao Paulo State) and young people from other interested regions created a rap and learned dances to go with it. A group of girls like a chocolate rainbow, from ivory white to bittersweet and very dark, sat in the shade of a large tent while their teacher taught them about their culture, their land and where this had all come from. Their brown skin and curly hair, that sweet accent and carnival samba--that all comes from Africa, the mother. The swing in their walk, the roll of their hips, and the strength in their step; these are signs of proud resistance toward all that would try to cover up or to steal from them the beauty of their history. Drums played throughout each day and night from the long lunch lines, from the buses that shuttled us to and fro. The drums became like a heart beat ever present, and one in a while, you could catch yourself dancing without even realizing it.
Our trip began with the hope that our presence for the three days of the meeting would lend support to the children and their cause: the daily struggle for the basic rights that most of us in the United States take for granted. We came to Brazil hoping to learn from the powerful example of our young hosts who have organized themselves to fight for their rights. What these children gave to us in return was even greater than this. They gave to us the inspiration of their solidarity, of their indefeatable strength and tenacity, of their unfailing hope and their omnipresent love and laughter.
Brazil is so many things. It is the Amazon and the factories of Sao Paulo, as surely as it is the turquoise beaches of Bahia and the favelas of Rio, soccer and samba. But for we eight U.S. delegates on this trip, Brazil is the soft brown eyes of awe-inspiring children filled with love and the African drum rhythms pounding in their hearts.
By Kathleen Chandler
Initially my primary reason for attending the Fourth National Meeting of Street Children in Brasilia (besides the amazing opportunity to witness first hand a powerful historic event) was its connection with my senior thesis research on orphanages and their efforts to "save" street children in Brazil. I had lived for four months as a live-in caretaker at an orphanage in the southern Brazil, outside of Curitiba, Parana. In terms of my research, I had hoped to talk to children who had lived in orphanages about their experiences and opinions with regard to that type of care facility. I had also hoped to talk to adult educators about this topic. Plans changed when I got there...
To say the least, I was absolutely blown away by the kids whose enthusiasm, unwavering energy, self-empowered strength, and enlightened vision are an amazing testament to the human spirit. Unreal. That spirit and ability to see beyond themselves and understand the problems in larger society was amazing. Despite their age and despite the fact that the majority of them can be considered "uneducated" according to societal standards, they understand more than so many of the adults who have come into powerful positions in Brazil and the world. And perhaps even more amazing is the fact that even though they have so rarely received love, care, protection, and attention to basic needs from others, over 800 kids gathered together with the vision of making Brazil a better place if not for themselves, then for the children that will follow them. That vision was not created through rose-colored glasses. They sought to create a better educational system, one that addressed their needs and difficulties as working poor youth. The group didn't ask for handouts or free rides as well they might have since they've been denied so much already. Instead they demanded their right to opportunity to improve their situations by and for themselves.
This spirit and vision was tremendously powerful and it taught me a lot about the way the world should look at children and child rights. Kids can be incredibly resilient and almost unimaginably enthusiastic about the world around them. They deserve a lot of respect for that. The celebration of their strength and unity at the Encontro showed to me in vibrant colors the missing piece of the orphanage's efforts. In separating the children from their families and communities, the orphanage did not encourage the children to see their links to the problems, inequities, and injustice of the larger society in which they live. The kids at the orphanage saw their problems as personal/familiar failures and inadequacies as opposed to seeing their problems in the context of the larger society. In addition, the closed gate policy of the orphanage did not allow the children connect with and become close friends with their peers outside of the orphanage. Unlike the youth at the Encontro in Brasilia, they did not identify themselves with a large group fighting for a cause. Instead they were lonely souls hanging on until they could get out and live their own lives.
Of course things are not so black and white as self-empowered kids living exciting lives as social activists at the conference and weak, isolated, unenlightened kids trapped at the orphanage. But the difference between the groups is there and was readily apparent for me even after the first day of the conference. The movement's power and the kids' enthusiasm for the cause was born out of and continues to be based in tremendous suffering and injustice.
The ICRI Brazil Project has supported the implementation of BrazilUs comprehensive childrenUs rights legislation by educating North Americans organizations and individuals about the plight of Brazilian children in poverty and then involving them in letter-writing campaigns and other direct actions designed to focus international pressure on responsible authorities. In addition, through collaborative partnerships with Brazilian NGOUs, the Brazil Project offers institutional support to model programs and promotes the dissemination of their experiences within the United States. The ICRI Brazil Project is also actively connected with a network of US-based and European organizations working to safeguard human rights in Latin America.
Caius Brandao, Director
The Brazil Project
The International Child Resource Institute (ICRI)
1810 Hopkins Street
Berkeley, CA 94707 USA