According to Brazilian old-time backlanders
(sertanejos), the personification of
sertão hunger is a skeleton wearing
a big hat. Needless to say, the skeleton wearing a big hat is a frightful, haunting figure, full of bad vibrations who scares
many people. Like Pastor Alves da Silva, 43, father of six, a fisherman who complains that it is not easy feeding so many
mouths with the aquatic life in a small reservoir behind a small dam just outside town.
"I know all about the cost of living for the poor. It's a hard life with little chance to get ahead, so when I have any
extra fish I sell them for whatever the market will bear. It all depends on the way the buyer looks and what I think he can
pay," says Silva, who lives in the town of Delmiro Gouveia. But he admits that compared to the sharks in the local fair, and
the town's store owners, he is an amateur. "Now those guys really know how to wheel and deal. They drive such hard
bargains that you don't have a chance, they can run you out of business in a wink. They really know how to fleece a customer,"
says an admiring Silva.
Silva, the fisherman, lives in one of Delmiro Gouveia's poorest slums called Ponto Chic (Chic Place), where there is
little smart elegance and sophistication, but there are a lot of families enrolled in the Zero Hunger program. In the whole poor
county, there are 2,850 of them. "This is a place where the head of a family has to use his head to put food on the table
[translator's note: "heat up his brain to get up a meal over the fire," is a more literal translation of what Silva said]. He continues:
"With this helping hand [referring to the program] maybe we can work for a little more than just a hand-to-mouth existence.
Maybe we can get our act together," he says hopefully. Silva's first name is Pastor, which means preacher, but he is not one, it
is just his name.
Zero Hunger is run by the Mesa Program ("Mesa"tablestands for Extraordinary Ministry of Hunger Combat
and Food Security), which seeks to boost local produce of any and all kinds. Thus, the county where Delmiro Gouveia is
located has aquaculture, home broom factories and recycles its waste.
Vaneide de Brito, 32, is the mother of Janeide, 9; Renata, 6; José Vitor, 4; and Rafael, 3 months. She makes brooms
at home to support her family. She inherited the backroom broom factory from her father who "lost his lust for life," after
his wife died and now spends as little time as possible in the house because of bitter memories.
"If there is a little more determination. If we can get some help with purchases of material we need to make our
brooms. If we can work together, maybe we can climb out of the hole we are in," says Vaneide. She is betting on Zero Hunger to
organize the labor force. "Brooms sell well here. People do not like dirt around here. They very much like things sparkling
clean," she explains.
Old timers say the local concern with cleanliness dates back, like so many other things in the region, to Delmiro
Gouveia himself. He was obsessed with personal hygiene to the point where he fined his factory workers for spitting (the fine
went into a worker's fund). And today you can see signs around town like this one: "Visitors are warned to avoid getting sick
to their stomach because we do not have public toilets."
Besides the cleanliness, Gouveia did not permit firearms in his domains. He is reported to have explained his
position on the subject by saying that, "In this place, besides cows, pigs and poultry, no one except God can kill anything."
Unfortunately, Gouveia himself was killed in an ambush by gunmen
(cangaceiros) in the pay of landowners on
October 10, 1917. "What happened was that the evil of the past killed the promise of the future," says Frederico Pernambucano
de Melo, a local researcher and historian.
This article was prepared by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government.
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