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Ears to Hear

May 22, 2006

Barb de Souza - Brazil

As I write this the world is suffering from the consequences of natural disasters, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes, and I am reminded of words of a native American of the UTE tribe, Joseph Rael, which I read in my daily reading of A Cherokee Feast of Days by Joyce Sequichie Hifler, "The earth has always been talking to us, but many of us have lost our sensitivities to sound and vibration, and we do not hear her." And "We live close to our great mother, the earth." Sagoyehwatha of the Seneca tribe. And I would add the word MUST live close and in HARMONY with.

I have no exact idea when this Native American lived but the author quotes the period of the 1820s, and even then the threat to nature by humans concerned these people whose cultures revolved around nature.  Surely, things might have been different if our governments had listened? Mother Nature is angry for we have abused her. What are we to do now?
I have delayed writing this newsletter because so many problems have occurred and are still happening. As I write this, the Brasilian Govt. is having its worst political crisis in its modern history. President Lula, the hope of the poorer classes, and the Peoples Party, PT, have been denounced as corrupt and, though Lula himself so far has not been involved, the leaders of his Govt. have been exposed as to the buying of votes, money washing and the acceptance of financial bribes to attain certain advantages. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been deviated to personal accounts of the leaders of the Govt. Morale is low and the population does not know who to believe as there are so many lies that one cannot tell who is being truthful and who is not. Total disillusion was apparent when the leader of Congress was recently exposed as having received bribe money for the benefit of the owner of a restaurant in the Congress building. He has renounced his position.
The city of Rio continues to have the same problems that I told you about in the last newsletter.  Monies for the public health system have been deviated to politician's personal accts, as well as for the preparations for the Pan American Olympics to be held in Rio in 2007. We had not received any medication for our clinic family health program since last year, but because of the generosity of all you through the Brasilian Fund and church donations, we have been buying medicine directly from the pharmaceutical distributors. Because of Federal Govt. pressure, as of last month we began to receive medicines but not nearly enough. For example, we received 2000 iron pills, used mostly for our pregnant women. This medicine was gone in 3 weeks, so we are once again without.  We will have to buy again, and are able, thanks to you all. At a recent meeting of directors of public health clinics, I was told that no more large purchases for hospitals, health clinics and health programs would be made until March of 2006.

In addition to this, because our family health program at the clinic administrated by our Association of Community Health Educators is known throughout the Rio public health system as functioning the best, we are constantly being asked to do more than we are able. In a country of extreme bureaucracy, and corruption, with a culture of authoritarianism, our success due to our methodology of working from the needs of the people is constantly being questioned. Our health workers are overworked because of the growth of the population whom we serve as more and more people from the poorer areas of Brazil come to the big cities like Rio looking for jobs. Our health workers not only have to visit some 200 or more families per month but, as the bureaucratic details of a successful program must be recorded, they have to spend too many hours at the computer. In addition to this, there are all sorts of classes the city asks them to attend. Some are really necessary but could better be done in stages so that the women would not get so behind. Their stress level has been getting so bad that some of them wanted to quit. We must do much encouraging and praising to overcome these feelings for they are fabulous and dedicated women!
I have a reputation among the city health authorities, of being a fighter, and a difficult person to deal with for I complain constantly, and in defense of our health workers, I question some of the demands they make on these women. Just recently, I refused to send the health workers to an 8 day seminar for they were so far behind in their home visits and statistics, that some of them were in tears. As the authorities tell me, often when they want to make extra demands, they hesitate, fearing that I will refuse as I often do. Too many demands on our workers, do not allow for an efficient health program.  They still want to put city doctors into our program, instead of the ones we hired, but as they would be under the city's supervision and not ours, our Board of Directors and our employees have refused for obvious reasons.
We desperately need to have more space for our Physical Therapy program, which is not funded by the city, as is our family health program, but by USA church donations. We have to turn people away who need immediate treatment for lack of space, such as stroke victims. We also need to hire another physical therapist to meet this demand. Our plan would be to build or adapt another place near us for this program and then the city, hopefully, would add a dental team and 2 more health teams, doctors, nurses and health agents on the second floor. We wrote a proposal to the City Health Authorities, and now we wait for a response. The Mayor has said that he will not finance any building construction for this program, that if it is to be expanded it must be done on city property or a building owned by the city for he will not pay rent. However, we have a chance for our proposal to be accepted because we do not require rent nor would the city have to construct. Our Association also has a reputation for honesty as well as the success of our program. We have excellent employees!
To add to the picture of all that is happening, the violence in Rio has increased and is all about us. The roads are simply not safe at night and even during the daytime, there are blitzes by traffickers on the main highways, cars stolen, police battles in shanty towns, and stray bullets killing innocent folk. The beautiful city of Rio is no longer safe.
However, shantytowns have their own response to the lack of legal city police protection. They are called, "Policia Mineira." Usually these men are civil policemen who protect their communities on off hours. That is, they do not allow traffickers to take over, unless, as in the larger shantytowns, they themselves are part of a drug group or for their own financial gain, allow these groups to continue. These men collect money from all the commerce in the shantytown to pay for this protection. They also rule the area and are often responsible for the punishment, in some cases death, for those who do not cater to their wishes.  Our shantytown has this protection and in fact, with drugs in all the big shantytowns around us, we do not have a drug problem because of these men. As I told you in another newsletter, these men, armed at the time, came to our clinic to warn us that whatever we do, they must be informed. Since then, we are constantly in contact with them because, in addition to protection the legal police do not provide, they also do some work for the benefit of the community for they too are dwellers. Thus, they are supporting our community health program. One of them always comes to our community meetings and has become quite friendly with all of us. And at this moment, we are working with them for the cleaning up of the area in hopes that the city will consider this shantytown for urbanization before the Pan American Olympics, part of which will be right behind us.

In spite of all this, we have made many changes for the betterment of this community.  As proof of this, let me quote two persons who visited us, one an American, Gary Reich, a political science teacher at the University of Kansas and a member of a UCC Church there, who spent a day in our clinic in July, "...During the weeks I was in Brazil, I met with a lot of people from various churches, as well as various scholars studying religion and politics.  However, my visit to Canal do Anil"  (where our clinic is) "was by far the most inspiring part of my trip. It is sometimes so frustrating to see the ways in which the gospel has been twisted to serve narrow interests of particular churches (or politicians); but it was equally invigorating to see in the clinic a reminder of what mission work can be." 

And another letter, praising the health educators, sent by Paula Vargas, a 4th year medical student who came with her class to spend a month observing the city family health program, as part of her medical studies.   "It is incredible how we can live so close to misery and not have the faintest idea what it is really like" (to live this way), "And even worse, we think we know all about it! At least I thought I understood something" (about poverty) "but now" (after this visit to our clinic), "I know I didn't have the slightest idea what poverty was all about. Not until I entered into those homes" (with one of our health educators)," those tiny, crowded cubicles, where a wall of unfinished brick was a luxury, saw children playing in the midst of garbage, between puddles and holes filled with dirty rain water, and rats.  But on the other hand, I met strong women, with enviable determination! Women who are not doctors, the majority of them don't have a full grammar school education, BUT they have something else--very special--the ability to really take care of people! Medical workers who do their work in a most poetic, loving way in spite of their" (educational) "limitations.  Each one of these women is indispensable to this health program no matter what function they are exercising. They are admirable" (women)"... I thank you, dear teachers, wonderful health workers, whom I met" (in the Canal do Anil shanty town clinic)."
This speaks for these fantastic women who, themselves, are shantytown women and were trained in our Community Health Educators Training Course. All but one of them has now completed grammar school and is going to high school.  Empowerment, through health education; acquiring self-esteem is the key.
Peace, shalom, Axè                                
Barb and Gus de Souza
Barb de Souza is a volunteer with the Institute of Religious Studies (ISER)She serves as an advisor for popular education and training in the areas of health and sexuality.

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