Delegation Finds Creative Outreach Efforts in Brazil

Richard Jones and guideDelegation co-leader Richard Jones, left, listens to one of the tour guides in Rio de Janeiro, the second-largest city in Brazil.

The teeming metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo in Brazil are saturated with people — a combined population of up to 30 million.

Transitioning from a monarchy to dictatorship, the Portuguese- speaking country is now a modern democracy led by President Dilma Roussef. However, despite a growing economy and large trade export, Brazil has extreme poverty, a high crime rate and sexual trafficking.

But the first thing NASW Executive Director Elizabeth Clark noticed was beauty, and being among natural beauty and rich culture was not lost on members of the People to People Delegation trip to Brazil in October.

“It was beautiful,” Clark said. “You could see the beauty of the beaches and the natural surroundings, the fruit markets, the wildlife.”

“I was struck by how highly diverse the culture is,” said delegation co-leader Richard Jones.

Even the favela — the shanty town communities that house the extremely poor — are picturesque from a distance, with pastel-colored structures built into hillsides that slope into the city.

The favelas were a source of interest for the delegation, as the communities contain much of the extreme poverty and crime within the cities. The delegation ventured into two favelas not open to the public — Vigario Geral and Rocinha — to assess the social work situation right where it’s needed most.

Originally created in the 1920s as squatter-type settlements with easy city access, many favelas are strategically located on the periphery of prosperous neighborhoods, offering potential labor opportunities for residents.

Rio de Janeiro in the distanceThe People to People delegation visited the scenic area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Social workers in Brazil are working to improve education and health care, Clark said, including preventive care and immunization. One favela the delegation visited contained its own health center servicing up to 4,000 people and staffed with a team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and dentists.

As health care is free in Brazil, the focus is on providing outreach to the favela community to encourage residents to visit the centers, receive immunizations and educate themselves on how to take care of their health.

The efforts are paying off, as there has been a significant decrease in malnutrition and a significant increase in longevity, with the infant mortality rate dropping drastically from 47 percent in 1990 to 17 percent this year, Clark said.

Another type of outreach in Brazil is Grupo Cultural Affro Reggae, a hip-hop movement created by front man Anderson Sa. Affro Reggae recruits children and teens from the street and educates them in music and performance as a way to better their lives and provide them with the necessary tools to support themselves outside the favela. The group performs internationally, and regularly uses a portion of the proceeds to give back to the favela community.

“I was impressed at the outreach that’s under way on behalf of the children in the favelas,” Jones said. “Affro Reggae is one of the creative approaches that’s applied. Brazil is a nation that is making incredible progress. I came away with a feeling of hope, which was encouraging.”

“Social workers are trying to make a difference in Brazil,” said NASW member Walter Belsito, who has made numerous excursions to the country. “Economically it has picked up. There is a long way to go, but the potential definitely is there.”