With over 4 million people living in metropolitan Recife, it is difficult to discern where one community starts and the next begins. Yet, if we pay careful attention, we can feel the shift. As we exit the locations of high finance and tourism, the roadway beneath us begins to change. What was smooth asphalt and wide avenues soon gives way to rough roads, the necessity to avoid potholes and pedestrians, our vehicle swerving around horses and canines. As we enter the community of Paulista Almeda, the roads have become increasingly narrow, the Lombadas– speed bumps– forcing our vehicle to navigate the road at an angle to prevent ruining the undercarriage of the small car.
We traverse the rough cobblestone and arrive at the church located on the corner of a narrow and busy avenue. We turn slowly onto a dirt roadway that runs alongside the building. Our driver navigates the unfinished path for a few blocks, taking several turns before coming to a stop near a marble-covered wall encircling a lovely home. The juxtaposition of rich and poor is striking. We exit the car and are hit with thick humidity and blinding sun. Just a few yards away from where we have parked, we learn about one of the five neighborhoods from which the children come.
Our site leader explains the circumstances of this locale. Several years ago, the municipal government removed the ramshackle homes which squatters had built upon swamp land and where over 60 families were living. With a promise to provide something better, the city built buildings from brick—but only enough for a mere 30 families. It was this area that housed many children in the GlobalFingerprints program.
As we walked the narrow and dusty lanes we were suddenly greeted by excited voices. Two girls who had come to the vacation Bible school the day before called out to us with delight. Their enthusiasm was obvious as we walked to the door of their home. Four girls greeted us—the two we had met previously along with both a younger and an older sister. Each sibling shared the same deeply dimpled smile, dark eyes, curly hair, and tawny skin. With excitement, the girls introduced us to their mother and father and showed us the doorway to their home. The house was made of concrete block with a simple roof, the door fashioned from corrugated steel. The house appeared only slightly larger than the portal of metal hanging precariously in front.
We said our goodbyes to the girls and talked In the street with our leader. We learned that this barrio and the others the ministry served had more than their share of challenges. Aside from the obvious inadequacy of housing and open sewers, there were many unseen trials. The educational system was overcrowded and inadequate resulting in challenges for learning and progressing. Children are advanced to the next grade, whether or not they have gained the skills necessary to do so. The water supply in the barrio is spotty at best, the houses higher up the hillside and socioeconomic ladder more likely to receive that essential provision than those below in this neighborhood.
Drug trafficking, abuse in the home, assaults, theft, lack of sanitation. And floods. The area floods regularly during the rainy season. Last year many residents relocated when the amount of rain during five days in May was upwards of twenty inches.
Life in this impoverished barrio, this urban jungle, can be treacherous. But GlobalFingerprints is working to make a difference in the lives of children and families in these neighborhoods. We do this in a variety of ways: regular visits to the children’s homes, assessing their individual needs and helping to supply them; hosting a tutoring program and enrichment at the local church to help each child gain the academic skills they need; encouraging the families to help themselves in terms of hygiene and cleanliness; and sharing the love of Christ in the home and at church. Significantly, each child is KNOWN. As one family member shared, while we may be helping her child, she is the one who is receiving a gift. As the children progress and succeed the entire family and community are impacted for eternity.