On Wednesday 10 March, Sueli Machado, Coordinator of CAFOD partner Movimento de Defesa do Favelado (MDF, a non governmental organisation in Sao Paulo, Brazil) along with CAFOD’s Programme Manager for Brazil Cecilia Iorio, visited year 4 pupils at St George’s Roman Catholic Primary School, York.
Sueli, who lives in a Favela herself, visited the school as part of a CAFOD initiative aimed at raising awareness about the plight of homeless people living in the shanty towns of one of Brazil’s largest cities. Sao Paulo is a huge city with a population of around 11 million. There are 2000 Favelas (slum settlements) in and around Sao Paulo in which 3 million people live in some of the most unimaginably difficult conditions. There are estimated to be 15,000 homeless people in the city. Sueli said “At least in the Favelas people have a roof over their head and in some areas there is a sense of community”. There is no clean water or sanitation. The area where Sueli works is prone to flooding during the rainy season. People are vulnerable to water borne illnesses and infections. Many families live in single room accommodation with no running water or sewage system. The sewage goes straight into the stream that runs through the Favela. Sueli pointed out that “The majority of the rich people in the city simply do not see the poor or do not think that there is a problem”.
Sueli showed the children some photographs of her area where the rich and poor live side by side, separated only by a high wall preventing one group from seeing the other. The year 4 pupils were astounded to see the photographs and found it difficult to comprehend how rich and poor could live so closely to each other and yet have such different lives. Sueli shared the story of Lucas, a ten year old boy living in the Favela, in a small single room dwelling 3m X 3m, with his eight siblings and mum and dad. Lucas, had painted the outside of their shanty as a gift to his mother. Few children have access to education and yet most parents know that it is only through education that their children will break the terrible cycle of poverty.
CAFOD has been working with a number of organisations whose aim is to improve the conditions of the urban poor in Sao Paulo for almost twenty years. In the last two years MDF through CAFOD’s support has been able to help 2,800 people secure titles to their land; 1,200 families have been provided with new, permanent homes; 1,000 have benefitted from government housing projects and over 400 young people have been trained as community leaders.
Sueli said, “Life is very difficult for many people living in the Favelas but thanks to the support of CAFOD and the Catholic Community of England and Wales we are able to help people make a positive change in their lives. We have been able to help with building permanent housing, improving living conditions and even putting aside areas for children to play”. Sueli went on to say “I see myself as a rope that gets thrown to the bottom of a well. I am there to
help people who need me. If they want to they can hold onto the rope and pull themselves up”.
Through her interpreter, Sueli went on to say “It has been wonderful to visit York and see some of this very ancient city for myself. I also want to say a big thank you to the pupils and staff of St George’s for their warm welcome and and for making me feel at home”.