A place where children find understanding and dignity. Comboni Missionary Father Padre Saverio Paolillo explains.
In the Marcos Moura quarter, in the outskirts of Santa Rita, a town in the state of Paraíba in north-east Brazil, an initiative called Project Legal is in action. A group of men and women take in children and maladjusted adolescents. It is not a work of social benefits but a workshop for new experiences inspired by the values of the Gospel whose only aim is to help the boys and girls to live in freedom and take charge of their lives.
The project started only four years ago but the results are surprising. At present, as many as 189 children and adolescents are involved in its activities. Together with their men and women teachers and in close collaboration with their families, they are following a different path to that imposed by the leaders of organised crime who control this territory abandoned by the state.
With Project Legal, they have found new and transforming energy. From being people asking for help, they are now learning to look after themselves; from being compelled to seeing only their own defects, they have discovered their qualities and potential; from always begging, they are beginning to share their own precious riches; now loved gratuitously, fiercely protected, with their needs being considered, respected in their differences and recognised as people with inalienable rights, they are taking their first steps towards the full exercise of their citizenship. The environment is fairly quiet. Fights have been reduced through “restorative circles” and non-violent conflict resolution mediation. Even domestic violence is less frequent.
Throughout the year, apart from receiving good, healthy food, the children and adolescents may also attend after-school lessons in Portuguese and mathematics provided by excellent teachers. “Now I feel more ready to speak in public and I am able to express my ideas clearly”, said Sandro, one of the boys in the project, during a discussion on their activities. Larissa agrees.
Despite being only fifteen, she has an important role in the Small Christian community, helping to animate the celebration of the Word of God: “I am no longer afraid to make mistakes. I read correctly and understand what I read”. By means of plays, music, painting, hip hop, sport and the workshop for the production of objects made from recyclable material, the boys and girls have put their creativity to work, producing some really beautiful pieces.
From the purely economic point of view, all these activities may seem useless but money is not everything: we also need beauty and, above all, ethics. Man does not live on bread alone but also on beauty, solidarity, tenderness, consideration for all and respectful integration with others and with nature.
In this frenetic world dominated by the anxiety to win at all costs, taking time out to contemplate beauty, to be enchanted by its appearance and to cultivate it, has extraordinary curative powers: it heals the eyes contaminated by the obsession to see only what is bad in us and around us and invites us to discover and cultivate interior beauty. Eyes exercised by beauty perceive horizons of hope: “Beauty is the great need of humankind; it is the root from which the trunk of our peace springs and the fruits of our hope” (Benedict XVI).
Thanks to a group of friends, we have been able to enlarge our structures and purchase a minibus which we have used for outings so as to know and understand better the natural beauty and cultural riches of the region. “I had never before seen the sea and I just gazed at it with my mouth open. Just think – Rikelmy, a, eleven year-old boy tells us – I live just a few kilometres from this immense swimming pool. My parents never took me. I never knew my region was so beautiful”.
Through a project organised by the government of the state of Paraíba, an orchestra was formed. Both children and adolescents are frequenting violin, cello, guitar, flute and percussion classes. In recent months, Orchestra Legal has played several times at the main theatre of João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba. Families went to the theatre for the first time.
In a quarter where it was easy to meet adolescents and young people with a pistol in their hands, one is now just as likely to meet boys and girls carrying musical instruments. Where once the terrible sound of death-dealing gunfire was heard, now there is the sound of music, bringing harmony, joy and life. “Thank you for disarming our children – a mother says – and for filling their hands with pens, books, footballs, musical instruments, tools, toys and much more. I feared losing them. Now I see that at present we have more life and not just survival and I am already beginning to think that these children have a good future ahead of them!”