Helping Brazil street kids survive their way
(Page 2 of 2)
Jailton and Antonio are in one of the programs involved in the project. The Minors Community Center, run by the Rev. Laurindo Batista, a Roman Catholic priest, provided shoeshine boxes and brushes. The 150 boys in the program - girls are on the streets, too, but not in the same numbers - make a down payment that is comfortable for them, and then pay off the cost of the boxes over an agreed-on period. Fr. Batista says the rate of initial default is high, but that most eventually pay off their debt. The boys also get daily hot lunches for a small price. The program does not offer a place to sleep, so the children spend their nights wherever they can.Skip to next paragraph
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The two teen-agers, interviewed during a drizzle that sidelined them for the afternoon, talk about their life on the streets, their backgrounds, and outlooks in ways that fit the typical profile of street children. Antonio has found a bed at a facility of Funabem (the Foundation for the Welfare of Minors), but Jailton sleeps on the steps of the Grand Municipal Theater, unless he earns enough on a given day to afford a $2-a-night hotel he likes.
A very good day of shoeshining, the boys say, brings in about 150 cruzados, or $5. More typically, a day's work brings only $2. It's less than he'd earn by stealing this reporter's watch, says Jailton, who estimates the watch would bring $15 on the street. But, the boy declares, ``I don't steal anymore and I never will again.''
Jailton is a joker who likes to sing his own songs. Bare feet tapping and polish-stained hands gesturing, he broke off an improvised tune about King Kong to do the interview. He is a lively talker on all topics, except when it comes to discussing his family. Jailton left home after his mother died and arguments with his father made life on the street seem simpler. He refuses to discuss his former home and says of the future that he hopes never to have a wife or children. ``I'd just like a house to live in, and food to eat, and a job as a salesman.''
Antonio, on the other hand, hopes for a future with a family. ``But I don't want my kids to be involved in a life like this ... I want them to have school,'' says Antonio, who can barely write his name. His father once tended cattle in the interior of Sao Paulo State, where Antonio was born. Why he brought his family to the city, where it disintegrated under poverty, the boy doesn't know.
``Once our family tried to go back [to the country]. We stayed with my uncle for three months, but there were too many people in his house and not enough food,'' recalls Antonio. The family structure is something he laments losing. ``The most fun thing I've ever done is staying together with my family. We talked a lot and we'd make good food.''
Both boys say they fear violence on the street, and each knows several other children killed by peers or, they say, police. Jailton had one friend who died after a long period of glue-sniffing. They say drugs are commonly used among their friends. Both admit having smoked marijuana.
As the sun came out - good shoeshining weather - the boys excused themselves. But Jailton added a final point he wanted the interviewer to understand: ``I live on the street, but I'm not poor, because I have a lunch every day and sometimes I go to a hotel.''