A story of honesty

A story of honesty

Dear Partners in Ministry,

We are fresh into a new year, and in spite of the tragedies around the world, which in today’s modern communication system, are brought directly into our homes, we must have hope, for without this, life loses its significance. In spite of the war in Iraq and its consequences, unnecessary deaths of young people in the prime of life and tidal waves in Asia causing the deaths of thousands and thousands of innocent persons, we must go on believing that things will get better, that a better world IS possible.

For us in Rio, we must begin the year with hope in spite of the corruption so apparent that the new mayors of cities all over Brazil, found when they took office on Jan. 1st such as city treasuries empty, debts causing unfinished constructions and lack of city maintenance, promises not fulfilled, machines, even computers, stolen from city offices, no accounting for the thousands passed on to these authorities to better as well as maintain the cities’ infrastructure. And, violence out of control in the leading large cities of the country, like Rio and Sao Paulo, drug traffickers growing more and more powerful, shoot outs in public places and shanty towns between police and drug dealers in which innocent passersby are killed; the Mayor of Rio whom I complained so about in the last newsletter re-elected, are things that we must face in this new year. Yet the flowers are in bloom, the birds and the monkeys in our yard are chirping, and new babies are being born. We must have hope, for without it, we could not go on.

In spite of this dark picture, I have a story to tell that brightened my life in 2004 and renewed my belief in honesty in a country where dishonesty and corruption are taken for granted: where the poor never make enough money, yet TV and the world around them exhibit so many things to buy; where the poor struggle to survive, to put food on the table while rich politicians live off the suffering of people with no self esteem; where social injustice is so great; where the laws on paper are good, but where impunity is the rule, I had the luck of having my purse found by an honest young man who was accompanied by another honest man.

We had gone to a big outlet store to buy our weekly supply of vitamins for our undernourished children at the clinic. In my large (and it is large) pocketbook, I carry many little purses with money, each one with a definite destination, each separate for the many projects for which we are responsible. Before parking, I had taken out the purse in which I put money to buy the medicines. I thought, after counting what I had, I had put the purse back in my pocket book, but it had, instead, fallen into my lap. When I got out of the car, it fell on the ground beside the car, and we didn’t hear it fall because of too much noise around us.

We purchased the vitamins and some other clinic necessities, and when I dug into my pocket book for the purse to pay the cashier, I entered into panic. Where was my little flowered purse? I removed everything from my pocket book (and this is a lot!!) but to my chagrin, it was not there. I was embarrassed but worse, sick at heart for this money was not mine, but was part of donations of faithful partners in mission. We went back to the parking lot. Then we went to the lost and found and registered the loss. When we said that there was a good deal of money in it, we were told immediately that this purse, if found, would never be reported to them. I went home and slept little that night. Of course, I would notify Sue Christopher and would make up for this loss, but something like this makes one feel so vulnerable and even betrayed.

The next day, the phone rang in the clinic early and a man, Flavio, asked if there was a woman called Barbara at this number. You see, in the little purse, there was the Association of Community Health Educators seal and Govt. number allowing us to make special purchases, and my name as president as well as the name of the clinic. Flavio said he worked as a delivery driver in the store where we had gone to make our purchases. When he said this, I said, “Oh, did you find my little purse?” He said yes. I said, “Oh, thank you, thank you, I will send my husband right away to get it.” I didn’t even mention all the money that was in it. “No,” he said, “I will bring it to you, just tell me how to find you.”

When I related this to all the girls at the clinic, they said without exception, that if he had opened the purse, he surely would have taken out the money, which was quite a bit. But I said, Then why would he call me? He could have taken the money and then thrown the purse away. He probably wants a reward, I was told. And I wondered too why he wanted to come to the clinic.

At 1:00 in the afternoon, two men arrived with my little purse and ALL THE MONEY WAS IN IT!!!!!!!!!!!! The girls in the clinic could hardly believe this honesty, so very unusual here. I was so emotional; I could only keep repeating, “Thank you, thank you!”
One of the girls asked how they had found it, and Flavio explained that as they work in merchandise delivery, they saw the purse in the parking lot when they went to get the delivery truck. Flavio picked it up and when he looked inside and saw all the money, he began to tremble. Then he found the receipt for some vitamins I had purchased the week before, and he said to his companion, Carlos, “This person must work with children and a lot of them. What shall I do? If I take it inside to the store or the lost and found, she will never see this money again.” Carlos interrupted and said to him, “It is your conscience that will tell you what to do.” So Flavio looked up the telephone number and called.

I recovered from this wonderful shock and hugged this big young man and pulled out money to give to him as a reward. He had told us he had 2 young children. But to our surprise, Flavio refused the money even after we all tried to persuade him to take it for the children anyway. After some chatting, they went off but left their telephone numbers for we wanted to give them a gift, which we did several weeks later.

Perhaps, this story may not seem so miraculous to you, but everyone who hears this story, is just as amazed as we are for this rarely happens here, I mean really, very rarely. Flavio does not earn a lot of money and lives in another low-income area but he and Carlos are examples of respect, love and honesty. God bless them and what a privilege to know such people. The money was returned and we were blessed!

Now to catch up on clinic news…

Our Doctor, Tarcimar, left us in August after 5 years of dedicated service. We were unprepared for this, but her mother’s illness made this decision for her. I, with members of the Board of Directors, quickly interviewed several and chose our first male employee. We warned him that it might not be easy to work with 26 women, the only man being Gus! He accepted.

As we look back, we realize we acted too quickly, for as we were to learn, he was an adventurer. At 50, he had not stayed in one job all his working years for more than 5 to 6 months. But that was not the worst of it! He is good looking, divorced and a charmer. He immediately began to use his charm and started dating various women at the clinic. This caused all sorts of problems. He began to slack off on the job, and after 4 months we had to fire him. This time we were much more careful with the hiring of another doctor. Our new doctor, Lillian, begins Monday, the 10th of January. We are hopeful!

As I mentioned above, the mayor was re-elected. However, he has not paid anyone so he could begin the year with money in the treasury. This means that all construction, necessary for the betterment of the city is at a stand still, city street cleaners, garbage collection etc., have not been paid and, we have received no medication since the April of last year. Hospitals have had to send patients home because there was no food to give them; operations cancelled because there was no anesthesia and so on. In fact, the city health program is in absolute chaos. If we, at the clinic, do not get some medication soon, we will be forced to go on strike or close. The public hospitals and health centers are even worse off for they have run out of 95% of their stock and are asking family members to buy the medication and bring it to the hospital for the patients.

In his inaugural address, the Mayor said that he realizes that the health system is chaotic and it will be a priority with him as well as the urbanization of shantytowns. Can we believe him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have a meeting with the assistant mayor on Tuesday, 1/11 to see what can be done. Will there be more empty promises? Hope is what we must have as well as positivism!

Considering all this, I am so proud of our health workers. They are dedicated and work under very difficult situations. How to promote good health and prevent illness when the sewer system doesn’t work, roads are not asphalted, drinking water is not purified and the open canal do Anil itself carries all sorts of filth as it still serves as the sewer for this area? They try.

In spite of this, the women work with enthusiasm and hope. And we have had many victories, among them: no infant death in 2004 due to our excellent pre-natal program and 350 women in our birth control classes using some form or other of contraception we supply! We have added also many new educational programs, highlighting our work with teenage mothers. These victories are due in large part to all of you, our loyal supporters! This could not be accomplished without your love, encouragement, prayers, and donations! Thank you!!!!

I am sorry that we didn’t get out usual holiday newsletter 2004 with our special Christmas message due to Gus’ illness. He spent half of November hospitalized and then many weeks recuperating. So I got behind with a double load of work to do. Gus is responsible for all of the driving, deliveries, shopping, and ambulance service at the clinic so that was left to me plus my normal duties. However, we did so want to get this message to you as the new year begins for it is our special message of hope.

And as we begin the new year, Gus is recovered and as I said above, the birds and monkeys are chirping in our fruit trees, the flowers are in bloom, and the many, many new babies in our clinic, in their innocence, bring us hope for a better world for them. This is up to us. Surely, the solidarity being shown worldwide to the victims in Asia, are a sign of hope, hope nourished by love. After all, we are all children of the same God, and we all inhabit the same planet, which we are called to preserve. We are really then interdependent. God bless you all and thank you again for your continued show of love and support to our work. Thank you for your many cards and e-mails. We continue to be your hands in mission.

With much HOPE for the future,

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.