Making a Difference

Making a Difference

Sponsoring a youngster from a third-world country like Brazil
promises to be an ongoing
rewarding experience, building
self-esteem on both ends. Students Helping Street Kids
International shows
us how this can be done.

Jennifer Grant

In two different elementary school classrooms in Orting, Washington, Brazil has acquired an identity beyond being
South America’s geographically largest nation. Likewise, the country’s most well known city, Rio de Janeiro, represents more
than just some place where a wild party called Carnaval happens every year. For these pupils, there is a personal connection.
Thanks to their desire to experience multi-cultural learning by becoming philanthropically involved in a stranger’s life, an
8-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother are able to attend school and have been given the chance to overcome the fate of a
poverty lifestyle breeding crime and violence.

To the Washington students, this large country and its southeast city are where people they care about live. That
concern has manifested itself through money they have raised, which has been used by an organization known as Students
Helping Street Kids International (hereafter referred to as SHSKI) to send Leidiane and Willy to a private school in a nice part of
town away from the favela (slum) where they currently live.

Their donated earnings arrive south of the equator in the form of a scholarship, which is then used for tuition,
educational materials, required uniforms, school meals, and transportation to and from the scholastic facility. In return, the US
youngsters receive quarterly to semiannual updates from their sponsored student. But more important is the intangible opportunity
to discover personal satisfaction in not only having contributed to another’s life, but in finding relevancy in such tedious
subjects as mastering the metric system, or learning to use mathematical formulas to figure currency exchange rates. And what
an opportunity to be exposed to the foreign rhythms of samba, or the jazz strains of
bossa nova, during a music appreciation session.

Leidiane and Willy are only two out of twenty-eight children currently being provided with learning scholarships
through SHSKI. The other children are from either one of four cities in Brazil (those besides Rio being São Paulo, Goiânia,
Recife/Olinda) or the country of Tanzania in Africa. The majority of recipients are attending academic private schools. However, those
from the São Paulo area participate in a unique skill development project in the
favela of Eldorado in Diadema, through
A.C.E.R. (Children at Risk Foundation), started by Norwegian artistic genius, Gregory John Smith and known as Projeto Beija-Flor
(The Hummingbird Project).

Opening Doors

Gregory John’s innovative approach adds a new dimension to traditional education. Realizing that when children
grow up in such dire poverty they are left with few choices but to turn to drugs, misconduct, and the streets, Hummingbird
seeks to offer new options in a culturally appropriate context. This begins with giving the child a new view of himself and then
goes on to develop vocational aptitudes such as in mural painting and hairdressing. Practical information which, will enable
him to start and run his own small business are included in the process..

Marcelo, SHSKI’s most recent beneficiary, now age 14 and attending Hummingbird, started life out in the Amazon
rainforest state of Pará. Soon after his birth, his mother left his father, and began her southward migration toward the poor and
violent São Paulo favela of Jardim Portinari, passing through Minas Gerais. At age seven, Marcelo acquired a new stepfather
while simultaneously inheriting three older brothers. Two of his older brothers got into drug trafficking and crime. But
Marcelo’s life has taken a different turn. Through ACER, he has discovered a talent for art and has become involved in the
Garagem Graffiti project, which develops the inherent capabilities of the participants to proficiently paint the murals which
decorate buildings as seen in many large international cities.

Marcelo’s hero is God, who he credits for giving him his `can do’ attitude. When he talks about his artwork, he
explains "I was born with the desire to do it, and when I draw I feel really good." His goal is to emulate Emerson, the graffiti artist
who is responsible for all the intricate paintings and murals which appear on the edifices of the activity center. Although he
has already learned much from doing, he has also gained an intellectual perspective through the study of art history.

A further sense of self, providing means to give to others, has come through Hummingbird’s mainstay
capoeira program. This martial art, made popular by slaves brought over from Africa during the 17 and 1800s, has given him a sense of
physical self and the means to hold his own in a back-home environment where substance abuse frequently leads to fights with
the propensity to result in murder. He currently has received the
3rd cordão, (belt in a color corresponding to ability), and
assists an instructor during afternoon classes. His faith carries over into his attitude toward the younger kids. If he observes
someone being bullied, his soft heart merges with his outer street-kid toughness in a desire to protect and defend.

A Man’s Dream

SHSKI, the charitable entity which bridges the gap between America’s school kids and those warranting the means
of a better education in Brazil and Tanzania, originated from the vision of a former Peace Corps Volunteer, Bob Crites, who
is now a counselor at Briggs Middle School in Springfield, Oregon.

During his service with the humanitarian organization, Bob was stationed in Brazil and became fluent in the
Portuguese language as well as knowledgeable about the country’s culture and customs. Upon returning to the U.S., he continued
to sustain his commitment to Latin America Studies after entering the field of education. This was done through raising
money through student endeavors for projects in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Paraguay.

Bob also kept current with his contacts in Brazil and set off to visit again in December of 1996. In San Francisco, he
discovered that he had missed his connecting flight and had to put himself up in a local hotel room for overnight. This provided the
perfect interlude to reflect on an article he had just read in
Hemispheres, United Airline’s in-flight magazine.

From it, he had discovered information about an upper class Brazilian woman, Yvonne Mello, who had decided to
devote her life to helping the street children of Rio, through her altruistic endeavor known as Projeto Uerê, based in the
favela of Maré. Taking a wild chance, Bob dialed the phone number printed at the end of the article and was shocked when
Yvonne answered the phone. They arranged a meeting upon his arrival in Rio. The next morning, Bob took off in a plane which
carried him to the launching point of his current destiny.

In Rio, Yvonne introduced Bob to kids from both Maré and another
favela town known as Santa Marta. He was
immediately overcome by the love that flowed from this woman who was from such an opposite end of the financial spectrum. After
ensuring that Bob was well acquainted with
favela life, he and Yvonne concluded their first encounter with a discussion of what
United States students could do to help her in her work. This resulted in the determination to fund scholarships, which would
permit the children to attend the type of school which would not only provide better education, but would give them a break
from the slum’s daily routine.

Upon returning home, Bob began to give form to his vision. In Brazil, there are two types of `street kids’. There are
those who have been kicked either out of, or voluntarily left, the home and sleep on the streets, engaging in prostitution,
begging, or petty crime to exist. Often they are addicted to drugs and have no accountability to anyone except perhaps each other.

The second type are kids who have some type of structure in their lives, living with either parent(s) and/or relatives.
These children spend significant time on the streets but do not actually live there. Therefore, they are less prone to be
permanently entrapped by the dangers which affect the first group, substance abuse, indoctrination into gangs, engaging in drug
trafficking and other offenses, as well as untimely death through violence, which is occasionally sanctioned by police and
frustrated shop owners. Those belonging to this second group were the ones which Bob and Yvonne had determined would
have the best chance to make it with sponsored help.

Need for Triage

An important ingredient of the approach would need to be accountability built into all levels. Children were to be
chosen by contact people who worked with them and knew them over a period of time. This would enable them to assess the
child for such qualities as true financial need, intelligence coupled with the ability to learn, determination to work toward
securing employment, self-discipline, and freedom from alcohol and drugs.

They would also be able to evaluate their current performance in public school, the stability of the candidate’s
home-life, and the likelihood of securing the commitment of the people he or she lived with to permit the child to continue their
education through the segundo grau, or high school level. Selected Brazilian private schools had to not only be willing to accept
an at-risk child from the favelas into their midst.

Brazilian intermediaries, such as Yvonne, were required to administer the scholarship funds, disbursing them
toward whichever areas complied with school requirements and whatever else could best guarantee a successful experience for
the child. On the North American end, a 501(c) (3) tax status entity needed to be established under the responsibility of a
supervising board, and pledges needed to be secured from potential sponsors, whether educational institutions or private
funding sources.

On May 9, 1997, SHSKI became a reality when it was first incorporated in the state of Oregon. Briggs Middle School,
where Bob is employed, became the pioneer scholarship provider. Elizabeth, one of Yvonne’s Rio
favela youngsters was honored, at age seven, as the original recipient.

Bob’s Briggs students quickly got behind the project. Elizabeth’s picture continues to appear in the hall way and the
students look forward to hearing about the progression of her education through copies of report cards, her personal letters, and
artwork. Each year, they put on a special fund-raising `multi-cultural’ night to help raise the $1,300 which is needed to finance her
academic education.

Such nights usually combine food, music, and dancing. Solidarity is enhanced between students as they unite in this
common cause to help another less fortunate than themselves.

Maria’s Story

After initial and perpetuating success with Elizabeth, Bob decided to reach out to other communities in different
regions of Brazil and Tanzania while continuing to tackle the challenge of securing more sponsors back home. In Recife,
Movimento Pró-Criança (Pro-Child Movement) was the organization that furnished the young woman Bob considers one of his
biggest success stories, Maria, who is currently 20 years of age.

Movimento Pró-Criança (MPC) is an organization run by the Archdiocese of Olinda/Recife, which attracts kids off
the streets by offering interesting classes such as art, dance, theater, and music. Mature youngsters are offered vocational
programs such as carpentry, sewing, metal working, and computer data entry. Once active in the MCP program, the kids are
assigned a social worker who helps to reintegrate them with their families and monitors their school attendance while keeping
abreast of disruptive situations in the home. Families may receive a monthly
cesta básica (food staples basket). Bus tickets are
provided for children who have no other transportation means.

The social workers are also responsible for seeing that SHSKI’s application for sponsorship is filled out and
submitted. This documentation includes information on the school willing to take on the child, an expense budget, a profile of the
family with recent photos of the candidate and family together, the administrator’s banking information, and a letter either
written or dictated by the petitioner describing why they hope to be selected.

From the beginning, Maria’s love and natural aptitude for dance was apparent as well as her desire to learn and
inner determination to `make it’. Not only did she receive a SHSKI scholarship to attend Colégio Contato, Recife’s largest
private school, but she was also invited to learn English at the expense of the participating language school. Upon graduation,
Bob was able to secure a privately funded AFS Community Exchange opportunity for Maria to come to New York City where
she currently studies with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, reciprocating by doing secretarial work there. She
also teaches Brazilian dance to low-income youth as part of a community outreach.

Failures Too

While SHSKI would like to be able to claim that every story has as happy an ending as Maria’s, there are those
which don’t. Some children drop out or have to be expelled from the program due to failure of commitment, or after succumbing
to the temptations of the favela lifestyle. Bob’s most difficult moments occur when he has to share such news with the
sponsor, though most are willing to continue with a replacement child.

Sometimes, there arise special circumstance incidents such as that which happened with one of the boys from Rio, 12
year old Lincoln.

Lincoln comes from a particularly difficult background marked by tragedy and violence. In May of 2002, his brother
was killed by a drug dealer during a jealousy dispute involving a girlfriend. Prior to that, Lincoln’s father, a sidewalk stand
vendor, had been in a serious automobile accident from which Lincoln still is plagued by fears that it will happen again. At one
time, he had himself been stabbed in the back by a knife-wielding
favela peer.

Lincoln and his friend, Fábio, were fortunate in being accepted into a respected middle-class school whose majority
of attendees are far removed from a lifestyle of such occurrences. Without thinking, Lincoln and Fábio began to tell stories
detailing their lives in their neighborhood. This fascinated the other students, who, unfortunately, decided to repeat the
narratives at home. This appalled the parents and created a great fear toward having their own children associating with types like
Lincoln and Fábio.

The end result was that the school had to ask the boys to leave the institution after receiving worried complaints.
Fortunately, they did continue to agree to still accept female students and another facility was secured for the boys. Lincoln
is now repeating the 5th grade, but finding more success as he works toward his goal of becoming either a printer or a
professional soccer player.

Besides schools and a few private contributors, Rotary clubs have also felt the call to make a difference. This can be
illustrated particularly in the case of their sponsorship of two students from the city of Goiânia located in the interior Brazilian state
of Goiás. The connection arose through Bob’s maintained contact with his old Peace Corps buddy, Gene Whitmer, who
resides there with his Brazilian wife. Gene put Bob in contact with both a local educator and the coordinator of the local Rotary
program who became enthusiastic about the possibilities. Both became involved, and the Rotary coordinator now regularly meets
with his sponsored students to offer guidance and support.

Sponsors Needed

Having grown to presently fund educations for 14 girls and 14 boys, Bob is working on obtaining new sponsors who
will be willing to vow an annual amount of at least $500 toward a scholarship, which usually runs between $1,500 and $2, 000
a year. He is also seeking the additional means to hire a paid staff since he bears the burden for handling the majority of
the administrative duties alone, having only the assistance of a few volunteers.

Schools are asked to send their money once annually, which gives them the chance to raise it through a variety of
means, including individual pledges, events such as the Briggs multi-cultural night, or through ongoing projects such as selling
popcorn and ice-cream at athletic events.

Sponsoring a youngster from a third-world country promises to be an ongoing rewarding experience, building
self-esteem on both ends. Perhaps, Cora Johnson, a then 6th grader at Briggs Middle School summed it up best when she stated
"Sometimes you feel like there’s this gap between you and the world; and when you reach out and help someone, that gap
gets filled. And you feel like you are a new person; a better person than you were before."

For further information on Students Helping Street Kids International, one may contact Bob Crites at Students
Helping Street Kids International, 2720 Fillmore Street, P.O. Box 50236, Eugene, OR, 97405-0973 or by e-mail at The SHSKI
telephone numbers are 1-877-543-7697 (toll-free) or 541-686-1396. You may also visit the web site at

Jennifer Grant wishes to thank Bob Crites who furnished the information for this article. She also wishes to
acknowledge friends Eduardo Borgerth of Niterói, Brazil, who has a call from God to help others less privileged through a radical
sports enterprise and Jazon da Silva Santos, formerly of Maceio and now living in Los Angeles, who has taught her the
Portuguese language and much about the Brazilian culture. Both these friends have contributed greatly to her love of Brazil. You
may e-mail her in Portuguese or in English at 

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