In Brazil, we are supporting community empowerment in Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon
Human rights and social action in the Amazon
We are supporting a human rights and social action programme in the Amazon which is helping local communities to find a route out of exploitation and poverty.
Ruth de Barros, based in Belém, is co-ordinating the project on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon. She writes:
To understand why the rights of so many people are being violated in the Amazon it is important to know a little about how the Amazon was colonised.
Historically, the town of Belém – the capital of Pará state and the headquarters of the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon – has held a strategic geographical location. The town was easy to reach by boat from the Americas, Europe and Africa. And, once reached, huge rivers facilitated quick movement through the country, meaning the region’s natural resources could be readily exploited.
In 1750, Portugal claimed ownership of the Amazon, having invaded and massacred thousands of Indians. They plundered the region’s natural resources, including cocoa, Brazil nuts and herbs. The Portuguese enslaved the Indians and brought in more slaves from Africa. The English came with a focus on the forest’s rubber supplies.
Exploitation continues to this day. In recent decades, men have been lured to the Amazon with the promise of land, only to end up as slave labour.
As well as plundering the Amazon of its natural resources, more and more forest is being destroyed to make room for beef cattle, highways, hydro-electric plants, and plantations of whatever product is in fashion around the world. Some call it development – but it is not development for the local people.
There is also a global impact. The rainforest has been called the ‘lungs of the planet’ because it helps clean the air by removing carbon dioxide generated by cars, planes, power stations, and so on. Destroying the rainforest means more carbon in the atmosphere, which will increase global warming.
The church – with funding from USPG – is running workshops entitled Social Agents and the Fight for Rights. We are training leaders to support local people in the Amazon. This will include education, better salaries, protection of the rainforest, and more.
The programme has inspired a number of local initiatives since it was launched in March 2014:
- Holy Trinity Church, in Conjunto Maguary, is providing after-school classes for children who might otherwise miss out on an education.
- St John the Baptist Church, in Terra Firme, is running a reading programme for children and teenagers, as well as encouraging honest discussion around subjects such as drugs, gang violence and family values. This is a violent part of the country where many teenagers have been shot as a consequence of battles between drug-traffickers and local police.
- The Cathedral of Santa Maria, in Batista Campos, is developing a programme that will reach out to the local elderly population, many of whom are lonely and suffering from depression.
- The Annunciation of Our Lord Church, in Icoaraci, is developing a schools programme. Classes are currently being held in homes. The community is asking the local government to hold firm to its promise to build a school.
- A new programme called Prevention of Violence Against Women is being run in Ulianópolis, where there is a high level of violence against women. Many participants did not know there were organisations in Belém that dealt with violence.
Working with Christ the King Church in the City of God
Cidade de Deus (City of God) is a neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city. The area became internationally famous via the 2003 movie City of God, which focused on the conflict between rival drugs gangs and the police.
There are hopes that the community is now moving on from its notorious past. In 2008, a major police operation clamped down on drug dealing, and since then police have remained to patrol the streets. Even so, the community faces many challenges: it is estimated that only 3 per cent of teenagers complete secondary school, while unemployment stands at 25 per cent, and the average income per household is just £50 a month
The Anglican congregation of Christ the King is small but growing and concerned to share God’s love.
We are supporting this work by funding the Revd Antonio Terto, who in May 2015 took over from Nicholas Wheeler as ‘priest missioner’, based at Christ the King. The focus remains on reaching out to the poor and marginalised.
Though Anglicans are in a tiny minority in this predominantly Catholic-country, the church is well regarded locally and something of a community hub.
The church has always attempted to work closely with the community, hosting events as diverse as an ice cream festival to bring people together, an event during national elections to encourage people to participate in politics, and a recycling scheme.
Now, it is hoped that the construction of a community centre will take the church’s local support for the community to a new level. The two-storey centre – to be called The Anglican Space. The building will be offer counselling, skills training and English classes, and will be used by community groups.
A message from the Revd Antonio Terto, Vicar of Christ the King:
'Since before I was ordained, three goals have influenced my understanding of spirituality: the pursuit of social justice, human rights and social inclusion.
'For five years I belonged to a Roman Catholic religious order that is strongly influenced by the life of St Francis of Assisi. I was ordained into the Anglican Church of Brazil in 2012 and continue to practice a Franciscan spirituality.
'Three striking experiences have helped to shape my ministry. The first was working with wheelchair-users and people with sight-impairment to lobby for laws that support people with disabilities. The second was organising a network of solidarity groups through which ‘the poor help the poor’. And the third was volunteering on a hospital ward for people with HIV and AIDS.
'The City of God faces many challenges. The government, NGOs and volunteers are seeking to support the City of God, but despite their efforts there is still much to do. There are children, even whole families, living on the streets. There are teenagers with no opportunity to develop their potential or creativity. Senior citizens are overlooked. There is violence against children, especially black teenagers. I have met children who are living with HIV and AIDS. And there are few resources for people with disabilities
'I see the Parish of Christ the King as a community of deep faith, seeking to face these delicate situations with love and dedication.
'We count on your support and the love of Christ.'