In recent years, Brazil has made steady progress in terms of human development, but life in the big cities continues to be tough. Despite the efforts of Porto Alegre’s public administration to create a more participatory and inclusive society, thousands of families are still struggling for basic survival. Children from such families are at a real disadvantage and their lives can be extremely insecure and often unsafe.
Poverty is less visible in Porto Alegre, the “Happy Harbour”, but it exists
Little boy in the Porto Alegre SOS Children's Village (photo: SOS archives)
Porto Alegre is the capital of the Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brazil and has a population of approximately 1.4 million. It is an important industrial and commercial centre and the surrounding rural areas of the state are rich in agricultural production.
Since 1989 Porto Alegre has employed a very innovative form of public administration called Participatory Budgeting. This means that the distribution of public funds is actively shaped by the population, so even those from low-income groups are involved in these processes. So far, the model seems to work well and has led to improvements for the overall population, e.g. in terms of sanitation and infrastructure. However, whether the very poorest sectors of society are truly involved in these processes remains disputable.
However progressive Porto Alegre may be, many of the problems here are the same as elsewhere in Brazil. Over 200,000 people live in shantytowns, or “favelas”, where basic infrastructure is not available. These favelas, especially when they are centrally located, are often an eyesore and attempts have been made to forcefully relocate the inhabitants. Even if this is successful, however, relocation does not guarantee that people will then have access to work, health care or education – housing itself is not the only issue when it comes to improving people’s living conditions.
Parents need support so that children can grow up in a safe environment
For children from low-income families, life can be particularly difficult. It is not uncommon for children to work in order to contribute to the family’s income, e.g. selling merchandise on the streets or washing cars. Not only does this expose them to a great number of dangers, as they are unsupervised and vulnerable to exploitation, but it also severely interferes with their education.
What we do in Porto Alegre
Proud of their handmade cards (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children’s Village Porto Alegre was our first programme in Brazil and began its work in 1967. Today, our social centre here provides a family strengthening programme, which aims to alleviate hardship in the community in a holistic and sustainable manner. Its services include a day-care centre - this allows working parents and single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living. Our efforts also address the needs of parents, providing support and training.
For children from the area who are no longer able to live with their parents, up to eight SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
When young people from the village feel ready to move out of the family home in order to pursue further education or vocational training, the SOS Youth Programme makes shared accommodation available to them. With the support of qualified counsellors, the young people live together and learn to take responsibility, plan their future and prepare for independent adult life.