Kelly’s Story!

Kelly’s Story!

Barbara de Souza – Brazil

I met Kelly Cristina Araújo in 1994 for she was my student in our first Training Course for Community Health Educators in Rio de Janeiro.

Barbara de Souza – Brazil

I met Kelly Cristina Araújo in 1994 for she was my student in our first Training Course for Community Health Educators in Rio de Janeiro.

This Course had been created while I worked in shantytowns of São Paulo, Brazil, as volunteer for the American Friends Society (Quakers) from 1985-1993. My work was to be with women. As I believe that education is the way to women’s empowerment and liberation, I decided to use health education, my field, as a means to this. I was working in a macho country with women who often did not have more than 2 or 3 years of school education, some mothers and grandmothers who were brought up to believe that their place was in the 4 walls of their shantytown homes as housekeepers and mothers. For this reason, they were taught that education was not necessary.

In 1993, as mission personnel for the Global Ministries, United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ, assigned to work with ISER, the Institute for the Study of Religion in the project – Women, Theology and Citizenship, in Rio de Janeiro and began my first class in a shantytown near my home.

Kelly entered into this first group. At 16, she was the youngest student of the class, the rest mothers and grandmothers. She was about to finish grammar school at the time. Her family was fairly small for a shantytown family; her mother a cleaning women who did not know how to read and write, her father an alcoholic without a fixed job, a sister who worked in a store with only a grammar school education and a brother who had problems with the law.

From the very beginning she was an excellent student, interested and enthusiastic. Near the end of the 2 year Course, came the tragic floods of 1996. This shantytown was devastated and all sorts of diseases were rampant. Our students, even though they hadn’t finished our Health Course yet, were called to action. With the help of volunteer doctors and local church donated medicines, they visited families and brought the sick to the roof of Kelly’s home where we had installed a small consultation room. The students set up hours and days for vaccinations and that they themselves gave under doctor’s supervision.

I watched Kelly as her enthusiasm for medicine grew. However, how could she an 18 year old shantytown girl with only a grammar school education that had to work to help her family, ever reach her dream of entering the field of medicine, she thought. I encouraged her to begin by finishing high school at night. With the financial help of churches in the USA to buy books, pay for transportation etc., she was able to finish. But now the 2nd part of her dream, to work in the health field was to begin.

By this time, with students from this first group of graduates, we had formed and registered, a legal, Non-Governmental Organization, so that we could apply for financial aid for our health work in the shantytown as well as purchase the building for our first health clinic. We began with volunteer doctors and our graduated health educators to make this clinic function where Kelly worked with us on her off hours. In June of 1999, our Association of Community Health Educators signed our 1st contract with the City Health Dept. for the Family Health Program.

This was a new theory in health in poorer areas of Brazil and is based on community health agents working in their own communities with disease prevention through health education—as we had been doing all along. We began with 2 health teams, each one consisting of a doctor, nurse, nurse’s assistant and 6 health educators to work in the community. Kelly was hired as a health agent. She was overjoyed for she could work in the field she loved and be paid so she could continue to help her family.

Our work expanded and with financial help from US churches, we added on a 2nd floor to our clinic. The more she gained experience, the more Kelly yearned to learn more so we encouraged her to take the 1 year course to become a nurse’s assistant. She worked 40 hours a week as a health agent and went to school at night, and did her apprenticeship in hospitals and public clinics on weekends. Her graduation day was a thrill for all of us who had watched her growth, her maturity, commitment and enthusiasm. She was then promoted in out Family Health Program for when our 2nd contract with the city was signed in 2000; she became a nurse’s assistant and an excellent one!

How she had changed? I watched her with admiration and pride. She was dedicated to her family, her job and her shantytown community. And with time, we could see that she wanted more. A seed had been planted with that first health course and it was growing. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to become a full fledged nurse! How many times she told me that this was her dream, but to her an impossible one. She took several special courses and tried out for the public nursing schools, but in Brazil, as the public high schools are so inferior to the private ones, she was never classified.

“I want to serve my community”, she would say over and over. She tried out for an experimental program for medical training in Cuba and was chosen but the money required made it impossible to accept. I watched her disappointment and I ached for her. She had so much to offer and because she was poor, higher education was denied. The other impediment was that nursing schools required full time attendance, that is, all day and Kelly had to work to support herself and help her family.

One of our nurses told me of a school for nursing that was much cheaper than other private ones and she had told Kelly to apply. Kelly came to me with tears in her eyes. “Why should I apply when there is no way I can pay the tuition as I would have to stop working”, she said. I told her to go ahead and apply and we would pray that we could find a way. She did and was accepted.

I called upon the help of friends in the States. Her college tuition was paid mainly by a seminary friend of mine, Rev. Lois Kitto, and Jean and Ken Lutterman, from a UCC church I had visited while on itineration. They became so enthused with our work that even at death, Jean’s husband left money for Kelly’s education. Kelly also contributed financially by being a teacher of our Training Course for Community Health Educators, planting seeds in other women.

So to finish our story proving that education brings empowerment and self esteem which result in liberation, in January of this year, 2006, I attended the exhibition of her graduation thesis, “Women’s Sexuality in a macho society” and shed tears of pride as she won honors for her excellence as well as her bravery for choosing this as her senior thesis. And in January of this year, I attended her college graduation. Kelly’s dream came true. Her story has become a model for others who work in our Family Health Clinic.

But the story is not over! In May, Kelly was hired to work in our clinic in the Family Health Program this time as a full fledged nurse with our 3rd health team which the city has granted us for our growing shanty town population!

Rev. Barb 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.