In a Brazilian Neighborhood, Sponsors Give Families Hope

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By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Posted on 5/19/2016

Michele, 5, lives in Sao Geraldo and attends a nearby community center supported by ChildFund.

In a sunny, toy-strewn playroom, it’s getting rowdy. A couple dozen 2- to 5-year-olds are playing, but four of them are arguing over a jumping rope. They’re starting to holler in Portuguese. It takes a minute of adult intervention, but the argument ends in a compromise: a happy game of tug-o-war. 

We’re in a community center supported by ChildFund in northeast Brazil. Sao Geraldo is a neighborhood near Oròs City, its steep streets lined with brightly painted homes made from concrete and tile. This is a pretty cheerful looking place, but staff members at the community center mention to us that prostitution and drug abuse are problems here. You wouldn’t want to be here at night, they advise.

Michele, a sweet-faced 5-year-old girl in a white lace dress, goes to the center. This morning, she’s playing marbles with friends, but soon it’s time to go home. Our small group of ChildFund staff members visits Michele and her foster mother, who live in a small and orderly house just a few blocks from the center. Among people she doesn’t know, Michele is quiet.

Despite her shyness among strangers, she “spends the whole day dancing funky,” says Elineusa, her foster mother, with a laugh. On the walls of the living room are photos of Michele in frilly dance costumes. Being sponsored and going to the center has helped Michele become more social, Elineusa adds. “Her studies are better now, too.”

“I’d like to be a doctor,” Michele says. “They take care of people.”

Michele considers Elineusa her mother, but legally, she isn’t. Elineusa has been trying to adopt Michele for nearly four years, since she was 1. Domestic adoptions can take a long time in Brazil, requiring numerous documents and approval in court. Right now, Elineusa is waiting for a judge to sign off on the adoption.


Sao Geraldo is a neighborhood outside of Oròs City, in northeastern Brazil.

Michele’s backstory is sadly common in this area; her parents divorced when she was a baby, and her biological mother is unable to care for Michele and her seven siblings. The children were removed from the household and placed into foster care four years ago. Her mother is still in Sao Geraldo, and Michele sees her from a distance, but they have no formal contact.

We meet other children in Sao Geraldo with sad stories, like 5-year-old Erik, whose father denies his paternity and won’t support him financially, or Julio Cesar, also 5, who was diagnosed with autism three years ago.

“He didn’t speak, just screamed,” explains his mother, Guiomar. She took him to the hospital in the nearest large city, hours away from Sao Geraldo. “We thought he was deaf.” After being correctly diagnosed, Julio Cesar has received consistent treatment and now talks and plays, but it’s still very hard for his family to drive to his doctors’ appointments and a special school, which is a few miles away from their home. This spring, he was sponsored, giving the family another source of hope.

Sponsors mean a lot to their children, every family says. “It’s important,” says Gabriela, the mother of 4-year-old Mario Gabriel, who lives a couple houses down from Julio Cesar. “They know they have sponsors. It’s not only us. There are other people supporting us.” 

See more pictures of Sao Geraldo on our blog.