Katelin Fiddis recently returned to Northern Ireland after a life changing Stride placement in Brazil. She worked with a long-term team of volunteers, supporting children and young people who live on the streets of Sa?o Paulo.
Every Tuesday, we sit alongside kids and adolescents in the middle of a busy street in the centre of São Paulo. We play games, sing songs, chat and simply try to help them see that they are valuable and loved, and that there is a better life for them off the streets.
Boy was I wrong
I assumed that the similar work I did on a Step team in Guatemala would have fully prepared me for working with street kids here in Brazil. Boy was I wrong. In Guatemala, I worked mostly with children aged 6-12, whereas here, the kids are generally over 13. There are other differences too.
In Guatemala, the kids were affected massively by drugs, because they were surrounded by them, but they weren’t users themselves. Here, on the other hand, the majority of the teens that we work with are users, and will sniff solvents/chemicals the entire time we are with them on the streets.
One thing both sets of children have in common is that they live on the streets; they have been discarded by society and are viewed as nothing more than rubbish.
Just like David
There is a very famous work of art in Italy known as “Il David” by Michelangelo. It is by far one of the most impressive sculptures in the world, but I think the story behind its creation is far more impressive.
Michelangelo made this sculpture out of a piece of marble that had been worked on, and subsequently rejected, by several artists. Agostino di Duccio abandoned it after doing only a little work. Antonio Rossellino also backed out almost immediately, claiming that the marble was of poor quality.
Every other artist that looked at the marble saw it as completely useless. A piece of stone which stood at four metres tall, with a big hole cut out of the centre, was viewed by them all as impossible to work with.
Then 26-year-old Michelangelo came along and he accepted the challenge to complete the sculpture. He spent the next few years locked away in hiding,moulding this image. He didn’t let a single person see his masterpiece until he had finished. Ultimately, he created one of his most famous pieces of work from a block of marble that had been rejected by everyone.
The kids that I work with here in Brazil have been completely rejected by society. People walk past them and pretend they aren’t there, they don’t even smile at them. They walk on the opposite side of the street, looking in the opposite direction, because they are scared that they are going to get robbed.
But the truth is, there is beauty in these wonderful young people. They are children who in many cases have escaped from their own families, because they have been so badly abused that they see living on the streets as a better option. Children that take drugs in order to escape and forget about the numerous beatings and endless pain that they have experienced in their short lives.
Another member of my team told me that once they were sitting talking to a child and theysaid to them, ‘Did you know that you are loved?’ The child responded, ‘Ninguém me ama porque eu sou lixo.’ (No one loves me because I’m trash.)
The truth is that none of these children are trash in the eyes of God. They are not loved any less than me or you. Jesus died for them, just like he died for me.
Michelangelo saw potential in that block of marble that had been rejected by the world, just like God values each and every single child that I have worked with.
Read more: Katelin’s blog
Holding out hope of home
Verna Langrell has worked with young people on the streets of São Paulo for more than 10 years. We asked her what home means to them:
We are regularly in contact with people who have never had a positive experience of home. What keeps them on the street is often the lack of a loving home to return to, or a sense of belonging where they now are. For on the streets they often meet others who have gone though some of the same hurts, and a sense of belonging grows out of shared experiences.
The street can become their home. As a team, we go out to the streets to try and create new bonds; working towards helping them reintegrate into a healthy home, and sharing with them the love of the Father, and the invitation to be part of his family.
Want to go on a Stride placement like Katelin’s?
to learn more, or email us at Stride@latinlink.org.uk
This article was featured in Latinfile Autumn 2018