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Brazzil - Poverty - August 2003
 

Brazil: Up Close to Zero Hunger

Pastor Alves da Silva is not a pastor, but a fisherman. He lives in
a neighborhood in Brazil called Ponto Chic (Chic Place), but the area
is a slum without any elegance. Da Silva's family is one of the 2850 in
the region that are enrolled in the Zero Hunger program, a plan to feed
the poor, created by another da Silva, president Lula.

AB

 

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"—table—stands 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. Comments are welcome at lucas@radiobras.gov.br 

 









 
 
 







 



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