June 27, 2002

Sisters of Mercy, Brazil

We are seven Mercies here in Brazil, living in the North East, in Brazil's poorest state - Paraíba. We live and work in three different areas: in João Pessoa, the Capital of the State and situated on the coast; in Campina Grande, the second largest city of the State situated about 1hour 30mins further inland and in Juazeirinho, a rural town further into the interior of the State, in an area that is almost desert-like.

Our priorities in mission are to live closely to the oppressed, with them in their struggles for justice with special emphasis on women and children.

The following is a story from Campina Grande, written by Ella Noonan:

Menina Feliz: Oasis

The young girls come and go, the Rosângelas, the Ednas, the Lucimars of Life. In the Casa Menina Feliz they find a welcome, a trust, a security. They come from various realities, of families of violence, of misunderstandings, of abuse, of unemployment, of hunger, of drugs. They know what marginalization means, they live it once they move out of the surrounds of the favela (shanty town), out of the side streets where most of them were born and reared. Once it is known where they live, they are suspect. Can anything good come out ot the favela Cachoeira? The majority is black, this adds to the degree of marginalization.

Our Project, created in view of the Prevention of Infantile Prostitution, is two years old. Faithful to dreams, in response to a great need and with great effort, the coordinating group has created a Center which helps to absorb the violence suffered, the abuse undergone, the marginalization felt by the sixty or so girls that pass through. It is an oasis of refreshing lifegiving water in the midst of a desert of living death brought about by being exposed to too much too soon. It is a center of presence, of listening, of learning, of trust, of orientating, of solidarity, of pulsating life. We are in it together, growing as humans, educators and girls. How many times have their raw experiences tapped deeply into ours as educators?

The various activities act as a diffusion: basket making, paper recycling, cross stitch, dance, theatre, guitar, word processing, school grinds. In and through all the activities, the trust and self- esteem grows and develops into a base that cannot be rocked by the huge storms of violence, disintegration, poverty and misery that are the order of the day.

As I reflect, one of the girls, Rosângela comes to mind. She began frequenting the Project as a timid, distrusting fifteen year old, daughter of a mother who married a second time. Rosângela had no time for her stepfather and lacked trust in life and in people in general . Rosângela has grown before our eyes. Now she is not afraid to express informed opinions, has become aware of her appearance, is secure, sure of herself. Her growth in self-awareness has helped her self esteem. The formation and information that she has absorbed about health, hygiene, her female body, citizenship, has added to her integration as a person.

This is our aim: "That they may have life and have it to the full" and in this way break the cycle of prostitution, female enslavement, being used, abused, dominated. MENINA FELIZ is a small oasis hoping to widen, but an oasis where Mercy and Compassion are alive and we are proud of it.

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