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Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 01:35:29 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: John Calhoun <72673.2030@compuserve.com>
Subject: Brazil Street Children: Report from 4'th Annual Meeting
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

A report by the U.S. delegation at the Fourth National Meeting of Street Children

[25 January 1996]

A four-person report by U.S. citizens who attended the Brazilian Street Children's Movement summit in Brazilia. It is a primary in youth rights organizing and how it's being done in Brazil

Braslia-DF Brazil—In October of 1995 the Brazilian National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR) held he Fourth National Meeting and commemorated its ten years of existence. Approximately 850 young activists and 100 educators from every corner of Brazil gathered in Braslia-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, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and the U.S.

The Brazil Project of the International Child Resource Institute (ICRI), in conjunction with Global Exchange, organized the U.S. Delegation to attend the meeting. The group departing from the U.S. was formed by students, researchers, youth activist, and child advocates. Back to the U.S., the group shared its experience with professors, students and friends at the Bolivar House - University of Stanford.

The Brazilian National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR)

The Movement is a grassroots and non-governmental organization working to support children and adolescents in their own struggle to secure their constitutional rights to full citizenship.

In the early 80's, 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 toward the children of the poor: a) The traditional government's repressive approach produces a violent environment. In addition, institutional programs isolate poor children and adolescents from their community by confining them in 'reformatory' institutions; and b) Numerous community programs view children as developing human beings with rights to citizenship. They provide children with conditions to formulate solutions for their problems within the context of their own environment.

Children are subjects in history and should have a voice. 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 exchanges. The contact 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 date, the Movement's network is comprised of over 2,000 adult educators/activists and reach approximately 6,000 children and adolescents throughout the country. About 3,000 youth activists are officially affiliated with the Movement. In addition to its headquarters based in .Braslia-DF, the Movement has offices in all but three Brazilian states.

Report by Jennifer Sanders

The rally cry of the National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR) was soon learned by all, Quero educa o para ser cidado, 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, Esprito Santo, Gois, Cear 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 plan 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 Esprito 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 tale 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 undefeasible 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.

Report by Kathleen Chandler

Initially my primary reason for attending the Fourth National Meeting of Street Children in Braslia (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, Paran. 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.

Fourth National Meeting of street boys and girls

Movimento Nacional de Meninos e Meninas de Rua (MNMMR), October 1995 Brasilia, Brazil
Report 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, highrise, help-the-children offices talking lofty 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 provinces 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 (non-governmental 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 by the hundreds and marched nearly a thousand strong with supporters into 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 Brazils' 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.

Bonnie Hayskar
226 Wheeler St. S.
St. Paul, MN 55105 USA
Tel 612/690-3320
Fax 612/690-1485
Email bonzi@maroon.tc.umn.edu
WWW http://www.umn.edu/nlhome/m027/bonzi

The National Movement of Street Children: Dialogue for a Change

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: 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. Whats gonna happen here? We have to decide. So they come to understand about planning, about working together. From planning a weeks meals, thinking and organizing skills slowly develop to the point where these same children lobby the nations legislature and organize international meetings like the one we traveled to Brazil to take part in. The transformation is astounding.

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 Freires 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 Brazils political agenda is the cooperative and congenial relationship between the movement and government agencies. Even though the movement struggles against government lawyers 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 Childrens Rights Councils. These councils were set up at the state, regional and national level by the 1990 revision of the Childrens 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 Childrens 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 Brazils 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 involvement in and support from organizations in other countries, represent lessons which child rights activists in the United States can benefit from.