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GROTA DA ALEGRIA (Valley of Joy)

Project Overview

Rainbow of Hope for Children's Work in Grota da Alegria

(Left) It was a new project spearheaded by ROHFC director, Al Gerwing (deceased). In this picture, Al (in yellow hat) was listening intently to Valdenicio Santos de Oliveir, (Vando) the President of CEPEC and Program Coordinator.

Rainbow of Hope for Children (ROHFC), started its work at Grota da Alegria in 2004, helping children, youth as well as adults, especially women. Grota da Alegria was known by the media as the valley of skeletons, for its rampant violence and the dumping ground of victims over its steep slopes. A few con- scientious local leaders refused to let the community die from within, and they asked ROHFC to help improve their conditions. Through ROHFC’s programs of education, music, cultural arts, sports, crafts and personal and family counseling workshops, implemented by CEPEC, the community has begun to bring back respectability, reduced drug and alcohol problems and family violence, better work ethic, and generation of income for women to reduce poverty.

The project has been featured on at least two Brazil television documentaries, showing how this community is transforming itself from a valley of skeletons to a valley of joy. Unfortunately, community violence, including random shooting of 10 people, caused a hiatus in the program between 2009 and 2013, as it was too dangerous to gather people together. At the conclusion of the 2009 project, Vando, Coordinator of the program in Brazil, wrote:

"Al Gerwing, who was not only a godfather to CEPEC but also a FATHER, has followed our de- velopment since 2002. Al, gave us the motivation to go forward, independently of financial support, making social problems our priority, i.e. giving priority to the engagement with the poor irrespective of financial support."

ROHFC revisited Grota da Alegria in 2012 and found it safe enough to continue its work, and in 2013 initiated another program implemented by its partner, CEPEC. ROHFC’s continuation is dependent on the support of the Al Gerwing Charitable Foundation and dedicated donors for which we are deeply grateful.

Charitable Purpose and Objectives of Project

The project is intended to educate youth and adults, especially women, in their literacy, culture, and life skills so they can function as full citizens of society, understanding and accessing their rights, documentation, gender equality, ethnic diversity, employment and generation of income. All of which are multipliers for preventing problems faced by youth and women at risk of abuse, violence, and poverty.

It is our objective to address and prevent specific problems faced by youth and women in developing nations at risk of sub-stance abuse, violence, and prostitution by providing applicable counselling, workshops and seminars.

Economic and Social Context

The Maceio municipality has a population of 1 million inhabitants, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) 2000 census. 52% of this population live in absolute misery without any means of income. More than 50% of the Maceio population are women, the group that suffers the most from poverty and who are the main victims of social exclusion. Beyond women, it is the youth who have also been seriously affected by the social misery. The public sectors have not yet developed escape routes from the hard reality within which live the poor youth in the periphery of Maceio.

Like many Brazilian capital cities, Maceió is characterized as predominantly urban, where social exclu- sion reaches an elevated level and presents indicators of education and life expectancy extremely low in the Human Development Index (IDH). Maceió is characterized by high concentration of income, a low level of economic productivity, high unemployment and an illiteracy index that reaches 28% (50% in all of Alagoas).

One factor which aggravates the situation in Maceió is the increase in rural migration, which accounts for about 30% of city’s population. The lack of an adequate agricultural policy leads to an exit of rural work- ers and small land owners to urban centers looking for jobs, homes, income, health care and education.

One of the most serious social problems in the municipality of Maceió is the high illiteracy among youth and adults. Many members of this demographic group have not had the opportunity for education as they have had to work just to survive. And they have remained outside the formal education system.

Maceió has the inhabitation complex called Benedito Bentes, formed by 23 crowded condominiums for low income earners and 19 “favelas” with a total population about 200,000 inhabitants, mainly origi- nating from the countryside looking for a survival in the city. Within this complex there is a favela called Grota da Alegria, composed of 14 thousand people distributed among 2,755 families that survive without the minimum of basic social and economic structure.

In Grota da Alegria a serious problem is the lack of school for unemployed youth with no jobs or any other socio-cultural activity or sports to occupy their time. It is within this community that youth, women, and children get exposed to daily social risks, drugs use, child prostitution, unemployment, hunger, violence and absolute misery. Through this program empowering its citizens, the municipality agreed to and paved the street running lengthwise through the valley, but opens sewers are still a reality in this Valley of Joy.

Activities of the Project

Grota da Alegria Women’s Group

These workshops develop self-esteem in a way that can contribute to a process of development from the starting point of gender relations and citizenship. The women from the community have a meeting twice a month to discuss subjects which are women related, such as: prostitution, violence against women, machismo, human rights, health reproduction, female self-esteem, abortion and other subjects related to gender.

Women and Youth Workshops

Workshops of crafts for women and youth is a way to keep them involved in the project while developing a future potential for employment and income generation and out of drug trafficking or prostitution. The number of women (adults and youth) is on aver- age 35 participating in the meetings and in the craft classes.

Singing and Coral Workshops

These workshops involve 30 youth in flute and gui- tar classes and coral singing 3 times a week.

The classes are helping to keep this group away from the world

of drugs and violence. The city of Maceió now is the 3rd place in

the International ranking index of violence among youth between the ages of 12 to 28 years of age (Annex Table). The region of Grota da Alegria is among the most violent district (Benedito Bentes, Vergel, Jancintinho and Clima Bom) in Maceió and learning to play a musical instrument and the discipline and beau- ty of coral singing offers an alternative the culture of drugs and violence.

Sports and Recreation

Aside from the activities financed by this project (coral, guitar and flute) soccer is an important activity, so with the help of volunteers soccer practice is offered during the week- ends for youth in the community.

Youth Citizen Workshop

These workshops are focused on children who are direct victims of sexual violence and drug trafficking. The workshops happen one hour before the beginning of each activity. Here children are counseled about making right choices in life and learn about human rights, the children and ado- lescent statues, and the effects of

alcohol and drugs on their lives, domestic violence, racism, environment and more.

Literacy and Computing Workshops for Adults and Youth

These workshops are designed to improve basic skills in reading and writing, also in computer technology, that are required in today's world of employment, providing better opportunities for advanced education and employment to reduce poverty and improve their conditions and well-being.

Partner (Implementing Agency): Centre for Popular Education and Citizenship (CEPEC)

The Center for Popular Education and Citizenship, Zumbi dos Palmares (CEPEC), is a non-profit NGO registered in Brazil with the objective to contribute to education process and social assistance. Together with diverse popular groups of Alagoas, such as popular movements, churches, co-operatives, pastorals, as- sociations and community schools. Officially CEPEC was founded in November 2000 with the objective to help popular groups in the processes of education, organization and autonomy. The priority of its work is to help children, youth, and women who are in a situation of social vulnerability. Its area of its work is gender equality, popular education, citizenship, human rights and generation of income to reduce poverty.

Project Methodology

The methodology is 'constructivist,' following the orientation of Paulo Freire, which is widely used by popular social movements and organizations in Brazil. The pedagogy is:

  1. To See – where we analyze diverse realities (social, political, cultur- al, and religious) which form the context of the community.
  2. To Judge – after seeing the diversified reality, we try the use of rel- evant documentation to instruct the members of the community about their rights and duties. These documents are: the Brazilian Constitution, Maria da Penha Law, Children and Adolescents Statutes, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents (Bible, Current Events, Academic texts)
  3. To Act – after raising the consciousness of the community towards responsibilities and duties as citizens, youth and adults are encour- aged to react in various ways, such as improving their behavior at home and reducing drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, and prostitution, thereby improving the conditions of the society.
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