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Street Approach

Through this 'outreach' programme, Task Brasil has helped adolescents still living on the streets.

The programme offered vital positive contact with the adult world, which for many adolescents has been all but severed. A programme of workshops, sporting and musical activities, education and counselling helps to build self-confidence and social skills, so that the teenagers can eventually be reintegrated into mainstream society. The team also identified, monitored and responded to the teenagers' most immediate needs. This may involved referring them to clinics for the treatment of HIV and drug addiction.

In the first days of the program, the children who start attending were under the influence of drugs most of the time (most drugs used by the street children are glue, thinners, crack and cocaine), on these occasions their concentration levels are very limited along with their lack of energy and willingness to get involved in sports or other more demanding activities. This is an on-going challenge which the youth workers have to face, and something that takes considerable time to address.

The youth workers used to create a routine of activities, encouraging the children to make a regular commitment at 4pm each day, giving them a new focus and responsibility and helping to build up trust with the youth workers. This was very important if the children /teenagers were then to move successfully into a rehabilitation programme.

The youth workers in general have a wide range of options regarding activities and workshops including games, art, sports etc., which they made available according to the group and individual child's state of mind, drug usage and level of concentration. There are also family groups - brothers. Some youngsters (18-22 years old) even lie about their age so they can get involved in the activities. Most of them do not look their age, as they are undernourished and immature. On one of the activity days, out of the blue, one of the boys asked to draw on one of Task Brasil's social street youth workers' diary. The youth workers are flexible and responsive to requests like this and act according to the children's reactions and progress.

The street children attending the program start becoming very attached to the youth workers and gradually reveal their feelings, fears, concerns and their life history as time goes on and a trust is established. The youth workers were delighted to see that many of the children were already gathered at the meeting point each day, waiting for them to arrive.

Once, about four weeks into the street work, five street children in the group started responding to the program by attending Day Centres every morning. This number increases as time goes on. Getting them involved with activities earlier in the day might prove positive and more effective. When they wake up they are not under drug influence. This is a wonderful achievement! When the children choose to attend a Day-Centre, that means that they are bound to comply with the Centre's internal rules. The main rules are: drugs, stolen goods and offensive weapons are not allowed. Other requirements are good behaviour and not being under the influence of drugs.

Some of the children in the beginning, although willing to attend a day-centre can not wake up, others are turned down because of their aggressive behaviour or because they are heavily under the influence of drugs. As children attend Day Centres, their concentration and interest increases and they become more and more participative. Their drug use is gradually reduced. The day centre also serves as an important stepping stone, acting as a half way house, before the children are ready to move on to residential shelters, schooling and before the adolescents are placed on apprenticeship programmes, whenever possible. It also offers an emergency service and a place where the children know they can come and go and be welcomed when they arrive. They can begin to experience what it feels like to be treated with respect, dignty and kindness and in this way become more interested in the work of the project and participation in the activities offered. This helps to improve their self-esteem and sense of autonomy, empowering them to make appropriate decisions for themselves about their life.

On the streets themselves, many passers by used to observe the work from a distance and specifically from a near by bus stop. They paid attention with interest as they saw the children doing activities with the social youth workers. The youth workers did continue to see violence however from adults towards the street children, in one instance an adult was threatening to shoot a child, standing with a gun pointing at the child's head - somehow this time, the child managed to run away. Women need some replica designer handbags with cheap price.

Sensitising the local neighbourhood is also an important part of the youth workers work.

In the beginning of May 98 TBT along with the key people from the community of Laranjeiras and adjacent areas attended a General Meeting run by the Local Police Force and the local authorities' representatives to discuss safety and security measures. Some of the meeting's themes were "Cleaning up the local streets", "Yes for death penalty". At the end of the meeting, with input from some of those present, the Local Police Force pledged their support to The Street Approach Project.

Unfortunately, on the 26th May the cleaning of the local streets started by the Local Council. The collectors arrived in the neighbourhood of Av. Atlantica (Copacabana) accompanied by the local police and started a cleansing operation removing 33 street children and homeless adults, beating them up and taking their belongings away. The children were extremely upset by this and the lack of respect for their few possessions. They refused to move and rebelled against them. The police drove them all to a remote part in the outskirts of Rio and left them there to their own devices. Some of these children attended Task Brasil's Street Approach Project on the next day, they revealed and discussed their feelings about this very disturbing event to the youth workers.

On the 27th of May 1998 children from the Street Approach Project were invited to have lunch on board HMS Edinburgh, in the port of Rio de Janeiro. During the days leading up to the event the children were so excited and were counting the days. This proved to be a great success for all concerned.

The children were thrilled to go on board ship and the sailors enjoyed showing them around and hosting them. This was a wonderful experience and was a great sign of the trust and rapport that has built up between the children and the youth workers. They were also given a "children's party" type lunch whilst on board and interestingly when asked afterwards what they enjoyed most about the trip their reply was the jelly and ice-cream!. Since then other children have been invited onboard HMS ships and some were able to generate income by shining the soldiers' shoes.

Project Daiana's Street Approach programme was primarily working with children and adolescents aged 8-18 years. We witnessed how at this age the children can become increasingly vulnerable to the dangers of drug abuse.

Through monitoring the various groups of street children, and offering them stimulus we have found that over a period of time the children make themselves more accountable to us and show genuine signs of progress.

Street Children in the Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro: January 2005

RESULTS

During this period of research we were able to meet approximately 150 street children. We informed them of the work done by Task Brasil, with special emphasis on the Street Approach Project, and invited all children aged between 12 and 17 to participate.

At this time of year, the number of children on the street in the Zona Sul rises considerably due to the large numbers of tourists in the city – according to the children themselves this also increases the opportunities and means of making money, be it through begging, theft, or work such as polishing shoes, selling sweets or juggling at the traffic lights

The great majority of the groups with whom we talked neither work nor study, with the exception of the children based around the Santos Dumont Airport, who polish shoes, and one of the groups we met on Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. The children of this second group sell sweets and told us they live in communities in the Zona Oeste and Baixada Fluminense, being at present on their school holidays. Coincidentally neither of these two groups was using drugs.

The street children are always in groups, composed of many boys, one or two girls and some over-18s. These adults generally present themselves as responsible for the younger ones and have a certain power over them, enforcing some ‘house rules’

We carried out the Street Approach in various areas of the Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro and were able to identify differences between the groups below.

1:        Lapa
The group is very large, made up of people of all ages from babies to adults who remain together for most of the day. They were the [most dispersed whilst we were present] due to their involvement in the sale of drugs – during our three visits we were able to witness this trafficking and the police response. However, on the day on which we distributed toys they became calmer and more participatory, allowed us to get closer to them and showed interest in future workshops. Some of the teenagers remembered the activities which used to be organized by Task Brasil at the Lapa Arches.
The NGO Dando Asas is also active in the area, but every time we were there its social workers simply observed the children.

2:        Rua do Lavradio in Lapa
A large group of street children, the great majority of whom are boys between 11 and 17. Some have already taken part in CRIAM courses, where children can take part in socio-educational activities. They were very communicative and suggested that the activities took place in Lapa, as this is the area they frequent. The group spends the day idle in the square sniffing paint thinner and shoemaker’s glue.

3:        Central do Brasil
Every time we were here the groups were made up of different people, at times just children and teenagers, at others people of all ages since a large number of adults live on the street in the square in front of Central (bus station). These groups use drugs constantly, making communication difficult, and refused to stop during our conversation. We were forced to repeat our proposals several times and they did not seem willing to move from their regular meeting place to participate in activities in other areas.

4:        Praça da República
The group was made up of male teenagers within the age range we are seeking, with just one girl and an adult who said he was responsible for the group, which remains on the street all day and all night. Throughout our interaction the one who showed most interest in our project was this adult, despite knowing that he could not participate himself, and several times he called the attention of the younger boys. These however remained scattered around as a result of their continuous use of paint thinner, even in our presence. The place where we found the group is used as a shelter for rainy days – normally they would be transit through the city centre.

5:        Square in front of the Santos Dumont Airport
These boys do not form large groups (normally between two and four people) and work as shoe polishers through which they make a good income with tips of up to R$50. Because of this they show little interest in other activities. They are divided into children who live on the street and those who live in poor communities a long way away. A few attend school, and were there due to the school holidays, whilst others just work.
The NGO Dando Asas was also active in the area but carry out no activities, instead concentrating on reintegration with the families and providing a grant of R$100 for families who participate in their project.

6:        Avenida Princesa Isabel in Copacabana
A large group, made up of mainly boys. They were the most receptive and allowed us to spend a long time with them, providing us with a lot of information. They spend the whole day traveling though Copacabana and Leme, using drugs and carrying out petty thefts, and all live on the street, sleeping on Rua Gustavo Sampaio behind the Meridien Hotel. The football activity we organized with them was very rewarding – they managed to respect the rules and remained orderly at snack time, as well as showing great interest in future workshops.

7:        Rua Siqueira Campos in Copacabana
There are a large number of people on this road, living both on the streets and in communities in the Zona Oeste and Baixada Fluminense. We met whole families seeking a source of income, the majority by begging. Alongside these were many teenagers who formed large groups, using drugs and robbing whenever necessary, and were continuously under the influence of drugs. Despite this they were receptive to our ideas and willing to help our team to round up the children when necessary. The NGO Trupe da Criança also works in the area, interacting with the children and directing them to their base in Praça Garota de Ipanema where they have various workshops and from which they cover the whole of the Zona Sul.

8:        Largo do Machado
A large group, including girls, babies and some adults. They accepted our proposals, saying they would be very willing to take part and suggesting that it be based in the Aterro do Flamengo as they are unable to go to Lapa due to fights between the groups of children. They made it very clear that they make their living begging and stealing and are drug users, but respected our presence and made no use of any substance during our conversation. The over-18s took everything we said very seriously and when a few of the younger boys wandered off called them to attention.

9:        Praia de Botafogo
This group was the one where communication was the most difficult. At all times they were heavily under the influence of drugs and we had to repeat our proposals several times. The majority of the group’s members was over 18 and found it hard to understand why they could take part. The teenagers were very keen on the idea of a footballing activity and that it took place in the Aterro do Flamengo.

10:        Gávea
This group was very interesting. They were extremely enthusiastic about the proposed activities and the only ones who made any reference to personal qualities, such as artistic ‘gifts’. They were also singers and skilled at origami. They asked us to stay for a long time, giving us plenty of opportunity to find out more about them. All had a home (which they used for sleeping) in favelas either nearby or further away with just one girl living on the actual street. She was also the only one who used any type of solvent. They told us that there are normally many street children in that area but the Prefeitura (city council) has carried out a sweep the day before so their group was smaller.

11:        Clube do Flamengo
There are many groups in this area, some with families and others just made up of teenagers. They are divided into traffic light jugglers, those who sell sweets throughout the city, and drug users, the latter spending the day idle apart from drug abuse and being very resistant to our proposals. We were not able even to finish our conversation due to a fight over drugs and virtually no communication was established.

We also went to other areas were we found no children or a few who were just passing through on their way to other places, including those above. Areas visited include Cinelandia, Castelo, Praia do Flamengo, Aterro do Flamengo, Museu de Artes Moderna, also Aterro, Leme, Carioca, Largo de São Francisco, Ipanema, Catete and Glória. Many of our excursions were hampered by the weather: when sunny the children gather on the beaches of the Zona Sul and when raining the shelter in more secluded places, hindering our interaction with them

During this time of research we encountered other projects for street children such as the NGOs Excola, Dando Asas, Trupe da Criança, Casa do Catete, Nos no Cinema, Sou Mais Minha Trilha and the CEMASI Laranjeiras. None of these projects offer workshops in the areas we studied and we were able to pave the way for possible contacts.

The issue of drug use is very significant and it is crucial that it is further studied to enable a more effective interaction and communication in the workshops since it is present and influential in the lives of all the street children. As well as child drug users there are dealers, often controlled by adults who make use of the labour of minors because of their probable immunity to legal reprisals. The place where we were able to observe the traffic of drugs most clearly was in Lapa.

In addition there is the issue of rivalry between the criminal factions which dominate the drug traffic in Rio de Janeiro’s poor communities: since many children class themselves as members of the Terceiro Comando, Comando Vermelho or Amigo dos Amigos - even if they no longer live in those places – they bring these rivalries to everyday life on the streets and divide into groups and areas according to these labels.

This period of research was crucial, as it enabled us to get to know and interact with the street children more, facilitating and widening the possible scope of Task Brasil’s future work with them.

By Carla Pessoa Serapiao - Psychologist
Translated by Frances Ashley

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