Unsung Heroes – Advocates – July 26-2020
One of my film trips for Canadian Baptist Ministries was to shoot a video on the street children in Brazil. It was an eventful trip on many levels, including breaking my foot one week into the trip while playing football with a group of street kids. There is nothing like hobbling around with a poorly constructed walking cast for two weeks trying to shoot video!
One evening we were in one of the satellite towns surrounding the capital Brasilia. Like most Latin American towns, it had a central square and in this one there was a group of about a dozen or so younger teen boys. Most of the street children in Brazil do have a home, its just that they are locked out of it for most of the day, since their parents both work long hours. So, these kids pretty much live on the streets.
We had asked where the girls were and received a somewhat evasive answer, which when interpreted meant that the girls were kept in rooms, where they earned their keep. We chatted with the boys and got some good interviews, but we had found them late in the evening and told them we would come back in a couple of days to talk with them some more. When we returned two days later they were there, but badly beaten up. A gang of older teens had come through the night before and beaten them. So, instead of filming we went to a pharmacy and purchased bandages, disinfectant, etc., etc. and treated their wounds.
The week I got back from my trip a church contacted Canadian Baptist Ministries because they were having a special Sunday event to raise money for our work with street kids. I arrived on the Sunday morning jet lagged and still trying to process what I had experienced on the trip, which had also included a week in Venezuela – there is nothing like laying in bed and listening to gun fire all night long!
The church I was at was one of those that make the guest speaker sit up front on the platform for the whole service. As I sat there, trying to look engaged, I kept mulling over in my mind, why in the world was I there and what could I say to this church that would convince them to support our work in Brazil. As I pondered that I thought of all the kids I met and their stories and I realized that I was there as their voice. I was at that church to advocate on their behalf, because they couldn’t be there, in fact they probably would never have had the opportunity to leave the streets that they are living on.
So, I got up and talked about the boys who were beaten up, the girls who are not on the street, because they have to prostitute themselves to eat, of the group of people living under a bridge and bathing and cooking in water that was running off of a garbage dump, of the school system that is so overcrowded that children only go for half a day, and of the desperate lives lived out in poverty and neglect.
I found it a difficult challenge advocating on their behalf. You want to be effective. You want to tell their story in a compelling way, while at the same time maintaining their dignity. They didn’t ask me to advocate on their behalf. They never knew exactly what we did with the video footage, the magazine articles and the public speaking. And, to be honest I have no idea how effective it was. Did that church give a lot of money? Did people pray for those kids and spread the word about their circumstances? Did anything really change? And, despite those unknowns, if you asked me would I do it again, the answer would be yes, minus the broken foot, which when I got back to Canada and X-rayed turned out to be a minor bone chip, that did not need a cast!
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The Journey Neighbourhood Centre has had to all but close our doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a difficult time for all of us in our community. The Journey has undertaken a few initiatives to try and make a difference:
- FOOD – We are now distributing basic prepacked food bags to our community on Thursdays (thanks to Regeneration Outreach Community).
- Information – Via our social media and website we are posting relevant and up-to-date information on a variety of topics including: financial compensation, school closings and health advisories.
- Resources – We are distributing family resources via our Little Library (long story, but the combination is 1, 2, 3) and also along with the prepackaged food distribution on Thursdays. Those resources consist of a variety of educational worksheets, colouring pages and family crafts.
- Care – We are directly contacting people in our community to check-in on how they are doing and we are also posting videos and inspiring stories to try and lift people’s spirits during the lockdown.
We continue to check our email and periodically phone messages. So, do not hesitate to contact us. Our door may be locked, but we are still here!