The word at this moment, 11/9, is CHANGE, new hope, or “we can” Nos podemos em Portugues. Rev. Martin
Luther King’s dream came true! Rio (as well as other parts of Brazil) has been celebrating. I now feel a pride in being an American more than ever. Here are 2 translations on the front pages of the Newspaper today.

The word at this moment, 11/9, is CHANGE, new hope, or “we can” Nos podemos em Portugues. Rev. Martin

Luther King’s dream came true! Rio (as well as other parts of Brazil) has been celebrating. I now feel a pride in being an American more than ever. Here are 2 translations on the front pages of the Newspaper today.

A quote of Jay-2, (an African-American Rapper):

“Rosa Parks sat down so that Martin Luther King could (stand up) walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Obama could run. Obama is running so that we can fly.”

Or Samuel Jackson:

“This means that the lie that we told our children all these years – You can grow up and can be anything you want to be in the United States, even President – really can be the truth.”

I wish we could show the same enthusiasm for the new mayor of Rio elected in October. He does not bring change or hope, but a continuation of the same corruption and false promises of the mayor before him. Voting is compulsory in this country, and yet the typical political maneuvering allowed the city to make Monday, day after the Sunday voting day, a holiday so that people could go away for a long weekend and justify not voting. These people, of course, would be the middle and upper class who, in general, would vote for the candidate who opposed the elected mayor. The vote was tight, just tight enough to need those votes of the weekenders; a scandal being discussed all over Latin America. (The fantastic difference apparent to Brazilians, was the amount of people who waited hours in line in the USA to vote in a country where voting is not obligatory).

We do not know now what will happen in Rio with our new mayor. During his campaign he said several times that he would eliminate some shantytowns and ours would be one of them because this community is on very valuable land, (that is, for exploitation) for the construction of hotels, apartments for the upper classes. If you remember in my letters just before the Pan American Olympics 2 years ago, half of our shantytown homes were marked for removal as they would be eye-sores to the athletes from other countries being housed in the new apartments next to our shantytown. We had all sorts of support in our struggle for this not to happen and even though the police came and tore down some homes, we had people from all over including politicians, priests and pastors, appear to stop this destruction. We went to court and won a preventive recourse that would not allow the removal of these homes. This document is still in effect but we know that if a mayor wants this land, he will get it!

So we wait to see what will happen when he takes office in January. The mayor, who is leaving after the last eight chaotic years, has left the city in ruins. Especially where health and education are concerned, things have never been worse. Traffickers are running the city and violence is everywhere. Roads and highways are in terrible condition causing accidents with the highest rate of mortality ever. So we wait anxiously knowing that political promises are often empty. I, myself, had a personal encounter with the new mayor years ago, right after the floods of 1996, when he came to examine the damage. He told me that I had no right to speak for the community for I did not live there, and to the shock of the persons at this meeting, he refused to answer my questions.

The women at the clinic continue to do the magnificent work that this dedicated program requires, even with the lack of medicines, hospitals unable to accept patients, and emergency care lacking. For example, high tech exams, such as mammograms, are incapable of meeting the demands in the public health system. However, in the private health system all is available. Thus the frustration of our health workers grows. My respect and pride for these women grows daily and we often cry together when we cannot do the things necessary for the health of a person or a family.

We have also lost a nurse and a doctor. The nurse, because she caused a problem with the supervisors of the area as well as with us; a doctor because she had a hard time adjusting to her health team. This all was a terrible strain on me and I was told by the health supervisors of the area that I was too involved emotionally with the women who work there as well as the patients. I said simply that we are here to serve as best we can as we show Christ’s love. (I learn more and more each day, how difficult it is to be a Christian; easy to hear the words of Christ but difficult to practice in the reality of our every day lives).

The year is almost over and once again we face the possibility of a dengue epidemic. (Remember last year?) The new mayor does not have the money to give the preventative support needed and the community, because of the lack of adequate sewers and recourse during the rainy season, finds it difficult to combat the mosquito. Add to this frustration the fact that our two-year contract with the city family health program is up in January. You remember the past years and our renewal problems! The City Finance Department is closed in January and February so no contract can be signed until March and even then it will depend on a new mayor’s approval. We do have money for salaries until February but the stress of working without a signed contract is not easy as well as the lack of medications due to the unsigned contract.

We also have the sad problem of the physical therapy program. If you remember it was approved and published in the official city health newspaper, and then we learned it was denied for lack of funds. We went to court against the reneging of the contract for this program but there was no result. Once again we will try to have this so needed program included in our contract for it has been possible up to this point because of your financial support. Every one who visits our wonderful buildings and the work done by the fantastic women employed, are astonished and in the physical therapy room, its beauty and the dedication of the physical therapists. Their methodology of working with the patients is totally different than elsewhere (and I have had personal experience in other physical therapy treatments). Not only are the exercises and equipment used efficiently but the atmosphere of the room is one of celebration and joy. The patients are sad when their treatment is over. We have had wonderful help from American physical therapist visitors who have praised the women and their work, brought supplies and even taught new methods. However, we know that this outside financial support cannot go on forever yet we know what a loss it would be in this community and the surrounding ones, if we have to close the doors of this therapy program.

As the holiday season approaches, we wish to thank you for your continued interest in our health mission. We wish for you all a season of joy, of celebration of the birthday of the One who taught us how to live, that God is love as expressed in services of love. And in the words of the new American president, “SIM, PODEMOS! YES WE CAN!” and this is true for us too here in the shantytown of Canal do Anil were we serve WITH all of you.

“This victory demonstrated that no person, anywhere in the world, should be prevented from dreaming of transforming the world into a better place.”

Nelson Mandela

God bless you all,

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.