When political institutions fail and rates of violence, crime, and drug use soar, young people need a new and better story to live by. Jess Bee reports on the first pilot of Choose Life in Brazil – helping to shape lives through the Bible’s life words.
In southern Brazil a group of children play a game as part of a lesson. They’re talking about how they can do things for other people. one child suggests giving a food basket to their friend’s family where the father is unemployed and the mother experiencing health problems. The rest of the class agree, excitedly planning to gather items from their own homes to fill the basket. Another child has an idea to take their guitars and visit an elderly couple, to play them music and to pray with them. The next morning the class go out and visit the two families, putting what they’ve talked about into practice. “It was wonderful,” says Eunice Deckmann, the class coordinator. “Everyone was happy. I was really emotional as the children knelt in the elderly couple’s home and prayed so spontaneously, thanking and asking God to bless them.”
These children attend classes at Missão Criança Jardim Paraiso, a children’s mission in Joinville, in the Santa Catarina region of Brazil. The mission works with 330 children and has two groups of 10 between the ages of 9 and 12 working through the Choose Life curriculum in the afternoons.
A New Context
Initially developed for use in East Africa, Choose Life (a values-based curriculum teaching positive decision-making) is now being piloted in teaching settings in Brazil. Choose Life has always been about empowering young people to make good choices for themselves and their communities. Now in this new setting, it is offering an alternative perspective for young people growing up in an increasingly unstable nation. Over the past few years, Brazil has seen huge political and economic turmoil with widespread corruption, loss of trust in politicians and austerity measures that have turned the clock back on improvements that had been made in poorer communities.
I was really emotional as the children knelt in the
elderly couple’s home and prayed so spontaneously”
The crime and violence which had been significantly reduced in the past ten years through various programmes and interventions are on the rise again, leaving young people with few values on which to model their lives. Crime, violence and drugs are again becoming a part of everyday life. Clenir Santos, from Lifewords Brazil, has been observing Choose Life (Escolha vida, in Portuguese) being used in these new places. “Choose Life helps children to talk about these things,” she says. “when I spoke to the facilitators everyone said, ‘wow, this is really what we need now’.”
Joinville has a population of 600,000 people and proportionally is as violent as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – every day someone dies or is shot. It has the highest number of homicides in the state of Santa Catarina. The children in the class experience violence in their homes and most have siblings who have a different father to them. One of the girls in class has an 18-year-old brother in prison because he stole something to give to his mother on Mother’s day. Cristiane Santos, one of the facilitators, explains how Choose Life is making a difference to the children and the way they view the world. In the past, the children would always talk about guns and death because this is their experience of everyday life. “The Good Samaritan re-telling was brutal,” she says. But now they use more positive role-play scenarios to demonstrate the values in the Bible stories they are reading.
The programme’s interactive and collaborative approach is also making a difference in the lives of the teachers as they see the children consider what life words mean for them. “I expected to teach but I see we learn much more with what the children bring,” says Cristiane. “Usually we expect to pass things on to them but in fact, I am receiving much more than I expected. The choices I make day-to-day reflect what we are learning here. I need to make some decisions that choose others. The children and I are learning together.”
In another project in Joinville, César Oliveira facilitates Choose Life with two groups of children aged 6–13 years old. The project, Ecos de Esperança has three shelter homes and a community centre for 300 children. César grew up in this project and is now helping the children he works with consider how God’s values can impact the way they live. “I am enjoying Choose Life, especially for reflecting on how we think,” he says. one of his classes has been looking at the Choose Others booklet and as a result, brainstormed ideas of how they could demonstrate their gratitude to the project through raising money. Some collected cardboard with friends and sold it. others made a piggy bank from a shoe box and asked for change in school and the project. “I learned with Choose Others that we need to choose others and always help,” said rafael, one of the children. “we collected cardboard and things to raise money for Ecos as they have been helping us for many years. It is very cool here. They give us this space and we can only say thank you.”
Missão Morro do Meio, another project, is developing Choose Life in one of the schools they work with in Joinville and also through a church community programme. A popular part of the Choose Life lessons the role-plays – a device used throughout the teaching to help young people explore how values shape choices, and to rehearse their own decisions. “In the first lesson they were ever so timid,” says Julita, one of the facilitators, “but in the second they all wanted to talk. They now tell us things like: ‘I always lost my patience having to help my little brother but now I am helping,’ and ‘I helped a lady in the supermarket pick up her shopping’.” The children are even becoming examples in their homes where the pattern of a father who drinks and physically abuses the mother is very common. “These children are making a difference through their attitudes,” says Julita.
The openness and confidence demonstrated by the children in the role-plays is also allowing them to build deep relationships with each other and the facilitators. one day, after class a girl came to Julita and said she needed to talk. It was about a situation at home with her father who was drunk. As the girl opened-up to her Julita realised the bond of trust they now have with the children.
A New Path
“In observing the lessons I saw a real enthusiasm from the children for a different way of thinking,” says Clenir. “They were excited and talkative, offering their ideas and keen for more lessons. For these children guns and violence are an everyday reality but Choose Life is offering them a new path, one which they are walking with enthusiasm. Instead of death they are focussing on life and hope.”
Pray with us for Choose Life in Brazil, that God’s truth, love and hope would inspire children, teachers, families and communities to reframe their thinking and the story that they live by.