Thank you for being such a committed and passionate supporter! As a Friend of the Children, we wanted to share a little more detail about life behind the scenes at our Sisters of Mary schools around the world, show how your support is used and the day to day challenges and joys of caring for nearly 20,000 of the world’s poorest children.
Each month, as part of our governance process, the WVC team meet with the Sisters around the world via zoom or in person, and learn about the depth of the poverty faced by the children, their desperate needs and how they fare in the care of the Sisters. These status updates are a vital part of our charity oversight. They are sometimes emotional when we learn about the difficulties of the children but always inspiring. They help us to observe progress in each country and the impact being made on the life of the child, their families and communities. We are are pleased to share some of these detailed updates exclusively with you, our special friends.
On Thursday, 15th June 2023, the World Villages team sat down with Sister Melinda in Brazil, who oversees the Sisters of Mary São Paulo Day care and Elementary School programmes.
Sister Melinda is in charge of the São Paulo Elementary School and Day Care. There are 321 students in elementary school and 157 children in day-care this year. In January this year, the Sisters responded to demand and squeezed in more children than prior years. The Sisters will begin their community visits throughout Brazil in July, to meet children in desperate need of an education, to start the new school year in January 2024.
Sister Melinda shared the details from the families in the regions and the living conditions experienced by many of the children. Housing in general is in poor condition, with most families having to rent a home. These are usually flimsey basement homes underneath a main house, and the families struggle desperately with damp and mould, which severely affects their health, particularly the youngest. In November and December, during the rainy season, the roofs are often blown off these homes, leaving the families inside exposed to the elements.
Many of the poorest families have migrated from the North of Brazil looking for better opportunities in the city but without education, opportunities are limited. Gang violence is a big problem in the poorest communities and young children are exposed to violence in and out of the home. They take that aggression to their schools, making public schools more and more dangerous for children.
As the Sisters move through the poorest communities to reach these children they go in fear; the region is riddled with gang activity. Sister Melinda said that visiting the communities is often a very frightening experience, with very present physical danger for the Sisters as they go into the favelas by foot in pairs or in a car with a driver. Sometimes they might be lucky and have a police guard.
These conditions mean children are desperate for a place with the Sisters, as the Elementary School and Day Care provide not just a free education but a place of safety. For the 60 places available in the Elementary school, the Sisters saw between 200 – 300 children looking for help. The need is overwhelming.
This year, as last year, all of the children who enter the Day-Care and the Elementary school have missed two years of foundational learning and development. Poor families have no access to virtual lessons and so the children are behind academically and behaviourally affected. The Sisters have introduced additional remedial classes to help the children learn and master the basics of literacy and numeracy. Since introducing the classes, the children have finally been able to catch up to their grade level and are flourishing as they learn.
There is a new government in Brazil, and taxes have been going up around the country. Even those who are able to get government aid are struggling to meet the rising price of food and the higher cost of living.
The price of staples like rice, meat and bread remain very high and the Sisters are working hard to keep within the budget and maintain a balanced and healthy diet for the children. Part of their solution is to grow their own vegetables at the school.
Though space is limited, the Sisters are growing squash, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes to feed the children and the children have started to get more involved in the growing process, watering and helping to care for the kitchen gardens. They are learning valuable skills and their diet is slowly improving with fresh, healthy greens.
The day care children aged 3-5 start at 8am and finish at 5 pm each day and the elementary children aged 6-11 come in for either a morning or afternoon session (7.30 am – 12.30 pm or 1 pm-5.45 pm) which provides some access for the widest range of local children. The toddlers enjoy play activities, three healthy meals and some early learning in literacy and numeracy. The older children have a full curriculum of accredited academic classes including Maths, Portuguese, English and computing. We were thrilled to learn that two girls from the São Paulo Elementary school have now progressed to Brasilia Girlstown to complete their secondary education with the Sisters of Mary. We look forward to sharing their stories with you as they progress.
All the children love sport. The play football, basketball and volleyball. The greatest joy for the day care children is the playground. It is a safe space where they can play without fear.