Breaking the vicious circle

Poverty and HIV marginalize people living in the favelas of São Paulo. Children are the ones to suffer most. They can find help at Casa Criança Querida run and financed by the Charity Group “Kinder in Not e.V” (Children in Need).

Fifty-five children, juveniles and their HIV-positive families are looked after at the Casa Criança Querida day care center financed by “Kinder in Not”. They come from the slums in the south of São Paulo and nearby suburbs. Small children from these families attend a nursery, if they cannot be looked after at home. There is a kindergarten for three- to six-year-olds, and groups for schoolchildren and youths.

The boys and girls receive sound nutrition with plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit to strengthen their immune systems. Parents are offered support in nutrition, personal hygiene and child-rearing. The facility works with schools and day clinics in the region, the health department, doctors and therapists, integrating the families in an extensive social and medical aid network. In special emergency cases, it even provides financial aid for medical interventions, food or accommodation.

Crime and violence are commonplace

Though much has certainly been done in Brazil to reduce poverty and social inequality, the state welfare programs do not usually reach the poorest members of the population. The children looked after in the center are still a huge social problem. They grow up in poverty with inadequate education and culture. They arrive at the center undernourished or malnourished, unwashed, infested with lice and with dirty nappies. Acute infections are not properly treated, if, indeed, they are treated at all. Wounds fail to heal because of the unhygienic conditions in the home. Parents and older siblings are often involved in criminal dealings: drug trafficking, theft or illegal work as street traders.

Almost every day, very young mothers ask our staff for help. HIV-positive themselves and with sick babies, they tell of abuse, life on the street, prostitution and male violence. Many are addicts, driven out by their families and caught in the vicious circle of poverty. The extreme violence in the slum districts affects the everyday lives of all families there.

Clashes between drug gangs and the police, murder, arrests, brawls and vigilantism are commonplace in the slum districts, not to mention child abuse, neglect, child prostitution, domestic violence and the breakdown of family structures.

Social and political attitudes to HIV-positive people have changed a lot since the Casa Criança Querida day care center was established: information campaigns aim to reduce the risk of infection, and treatment has improved. But there are loopholes in the system and the very families we support would fall through the net if they were not helped. As many parents are uneducated, they have to accept the lowliest of jobs, usually extremely strenuous ones and in dangerous or unhealthy environments. Under such conditions and with their reduced immunity, these people cannot carry on working for long.

Casa Criança Querida offers hope

When social deprivation is compounded by HIV, the situation becomes even more hopeless. In spite of welfare programs and improved support, the infant group at Casa Criança Querida is overfull and there is a long waiting list for places in the facility. Children accepted in the Casa are the fortunate ones, enjoying protection and loving care at least during the day, and enabling them to escape for a short while from their traumatizing daily existence. For the fi rst time, thanks to intensive cooperation with schools, help with homework and other forms of support, they have a real chance of graduating from school, learning a profession and leading an independent, self-determined life.

Maria is one girl who has taken advantage of this opportunity. When she arrived in the schoolchildren group at the age of nine years, she was squatting illegally with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in a favela in São Paulo. The living conditions were chaotic, and violent disputes between her parents were a daily occurrence. The HIV-positive mother was unable to organize the large family’s daily life. The social workers at the center attended not only to Maria but also to the rest of the family. They ensured that the mother started taking her medication again and going to the medical appointments.

The family received support with childcare and food donations and the electricity bills were paid. One day the mother surprised the team with the news that she had found a job in a bakery. Just a few weeks later the fi nancial assistance was no longer needed.

Unfortunately many highs and lows followed in the ensuing years. One son began to drink, turned to a life of crime and ended up in prison. But three of the children continue to make very good progress. Two sons will graduate from school soon and have good prospects for vocational training. Maria did very well at school and is training as a social worker. Her aim is to pass on the help she and her family received to other people.

The Casa Criança Querida children’s day care center obtains no support from the state and is entirely reliant on donations. Please help us to offer these children a better future.