Reporting by ChildFund Brazil
Thiago lives on the outskirts of Fortaleza, in northeastern Brazil, where playing soccer with his friends is a frequent pastime. On his face are a few pimples; on his feet, not even a sandal. Up to this point there is nothing special — he is like thousands of other teens his age except for a few details.
“Today is Soccer Day, and the boys are already waiting. But it’s all right — I’ll tell you about my life.” It is just this way that, between laughs, Thiago Lopes begins to tell his story.
As a young boy, Thiago left his parents’ home in Paraípaba to live with his grandparents 60 miles away in Fortaleza. His new home was a small store set up by his grandfather, the only steady income source for the family. Soon, Thiago was enrolled in the Projeto União, ChildFund’s partner in the area. He was 8 years old and did not understand much, so his aunt helped him write his letters to his sponsor.
Now 21 and a third-year medical student at the Medicina da Universidade Federal do Ceará, Thiago has full appreciation for not only his current situation but also the role of ChildFund in his life. “Today, I know that the support I received — school material, financial help and medication — was of great importance in my life,” he says. “I now realize that the activities offered by the organization get children off the streets. The affection of the sponsors, shown by way of the letters or visits, spreads joy without end, making us feel special. This is very important.
“My path to the university was not easy,” he continues. “I did not have a place to study. In the beginning in the small shop, there were no private work areas. The only way out for me was to use the bathroom as a study area. I put into the small space a little desk, lamp, chair and my books. I posted a periodic table of elements on the wall and spent one year of my life studying in that little space. It was very tiring, but today I am reaping what I have sown.”
Even though his time is divided among medical school, work, studies, his girlfriend and soccer, Thiago still finds the time to give back. The future doctor offers lectures to the youth who participate in the programs of Projeto União. “By way of the training and lectures, I try to keep the youth far away from the streets,” says Thiago. “I talk of my experiences and how I managed to succeed in life. I try to motivate them to fight for a better life.”
His plans for the future are many, including a specialization in general surgery. Thiago would also like to spend a year attending to patients in the rural areas of Ceará, the Brazilian state in which he grew up.
“There are many children with potential, but often they lack opportunities,” he says. “I had a lot of determination and help, mainly from my sponsor.”