Seventeen-year-old Andre (pictured here with 11-year-old sister Soroya) is an amazing testimony to the importance of Betesda's "Families against Violence" program.
As we walked into Betesda Student Center (BR-111) in Fortaleza on our fifth day in Brazil, our sponsor tour group was immediately surrounded by cheering, dancing, and the music of numerous young people carrying guitars, drums and even one trumpet. As the last sponsor entered the gates, this lively group circled around us, continuing to sing and play as they guided us toward the pavilion where others were waiting to present a special program.
What stood out most about these excited young people was their age. Up to that point, most of the Compassion children we had interacted with at projects were under the age of 13. But at Betesda, there was a refreshingly large number of high school students hugging us and telling us how happy they were that we had come.
Betesda Student Center is one of Compassion Brazil's largest projects, with over 300 children registered into its program. Because of additional assistance offered to the project through its church partner's affiliates, Betesda has spacious, well-equipped facilities that allow them to easily serve such a large number.
As sponsors watched the program and interacted with young people, we learned more about what Betesda offers to sponsored children. There is a special focus on arts and culture at the center and we saw demonstrations in a variety of areas including drama, dance, choir, a variety of musical instruments, and jewelry making.
After lunch, I noticed an animated conversation taking place between a visiting sponsor and a student. I had seen the young man obviously enjoying playing a large drum when we first arrived. As I walked by, he smiled and introduced himself as Andre. With the help of an interpreter, he continued to talk to us.
While we visited, a leader of Betesda's partner church joined our conversation. "Andre is a special young man," he said. "You would never believe it to see him now, but when he was 14, he was already addicted to drugs."
Today, Andre is 17. When he suddenly stopped attending project activities three years ago, project workers began asking around for information about his whereabouts. After several months, a friend of Andre's helped his drama teacher find Andre. The teacher convinced him to return to the project and over the next few months, staff helped Andre fight his addiction. He has stayed clean of drugs for over two years.
The situation of Andre and several other young people with similar struggles moved the staff at Betesda to discuss how they might be more purposeful in counteracting the environment their children were coming from. "The neighborhood is pretty rough. Drugs and violence are common," Andre's project director explained. "We worked all day to teach them what kind of people they should be but when they got home, half of it was immediately undone."
Stopping the Cycle of Violence
The student center responded to their community's need by introducing a new curriculum called "Families against Violence." The program targets not just sponsored children, but their parents or guardians as well. Classes meet on Saturdays for several weeks at a time, providing intervention workshops on how to protect families from the negative influences and effects of the neighborhoods they live in, as well as topics such as HIV/AIDS, health issues and other relevant material.
Enrolled families also receive home visits from project staff to monitor progress and encourage the families in their efforts. A class of 51 families finished the course in early August and 60 new families recently began the program. Project staff are greatly encouraged by the effect "Families against Violence" has had on the student center. They report a noticeable drop in the number of Compassion young people who are at risk of getting trapped in the drugs and violence that trouble their communities.
What the church leader had told us was true. As we talked to and watched Andre, it was hard to imagine the past he had come from. Over the last two years he has become increasingly involved as a student leader at the project. He also helps care for his younger siblings. While he talked with us, his 11-year-old sister, Soroya, walked up and leaned against him. Immediately he put his arm around her. Watching them, it seemed clear that the vicious cycle of drugs and violence in Andre's family had stopped with him.