How do you create a solution to a problem? Where do you start? How do you fund something so grandiose when the government refuses to give you money, and these days giving money to non-profits has become synonymous with “fueling corruption”. It’s easy to come up with a thousand reasons not to do something, but we all know it’s a lot more rewarding when we actually accomplish something. Today I want to share with you a story about an organization that answered these questions and is not only trying to solve a community’s problems they ARE solving a community’s problems.
I arrived in Alaghoinas, Brazil 8 weeks ago. Within the first week I jumped into my new work, teaching ballet at the Escola Comunitária Nova Esperança with kids ages 5-12. My host mother told me that this school was created in order to keep the “street kids” quite literally off the streets. The work is hard and the kids are far from easy, and when I have a bad day, the days are bad, but when I have a good day it’s like a bad day has never happened before. I became curious to know more about my new school, I like what it does, especially because when I was living in Salvador I saw so many kids who didn’t have a place to go to school or a place that would accept them. So my host mother directed me to a man that was a part of creating a solution to a community’s problems.
What I learned was beyond my wildest dreams and possibly one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. We have all heard positive success stories of organizations that have excelled and left a positive impact on a community but when you are living and seeing the works of a successful non-profit it takes it to a whole other level.
The foundation/organization that built the school that I currently work at was founded in 1980 by a group of brothers and is called Fundacão do Caminho. When I asked what the mission of the foundation was, the creator put it simply: “We want to begin something (i.e. a business), we want to find local people who are without skills and education to work and grow the business, we want to give them the skills and education that they need to run the business, and then we want to give the business back to them and so it can become independent from the foundation.” The foundation is also completely run by members of the community, there are no outside influences; this is a true community project. And you are probably thinking, yeah right, in your dreams something like this would work. But guess what? They have already proved you wrong. The foundation has created three main “projects”: a recording studio/music center, furniture maker, and a sewing business. The recording studio is already making money, which means it doesn’t need money from the foundation anymore, and is famed to be the best recording studio in the entire town. In the music center people learn how to make violins, cellos and electric guitars out of natural Brazilian wood (pictures posted below) and then sell them afterwards (if you are interested in buying one, let me know!). The most successful business is the furniture maker, and it fits the exact mission of the foundation. The foundation created the business and taught men how to make furniture and once they were successful they gave the business to the most responsible man in the trade and today he is selling furniture and making a profit while still hiring people from the community. I feel like the furniture business highlights exactly the thing that makes this foundation/non-profit different from many other projects, it’s community driven. This wasn’t something that a rich-donor threw a few dollars at, no, this is a project that helps to get people on their feet and the end goal is not to make them dependent but rather independent, and all of the growth comes from within the community.
When the brothers arrived they found a multitude of problems. They found kids on the street due to a multitude of reasons, but they also found that many people with handicaps (blind, deaf, mentally handicapped) were being kept inside away from society because people thought that having a person with a handicap was Gods way of doing something bad. So the foundation created a school. The school today is a home and a classroom to more than 300 students for both the handicapped and the street kids. Until a few years ago the school was completely run on funds from only donors who gave to the foundation, there was no government funding (now the government pays for the food and sends in the professors in mornings). School in Brazil is either a morning, afternoon, or night thing thus the kids are only in school for four hours a day, which for these kids means more time they can be exposed to drugs/violence in their homes, thus the foundation decided to pay for teachers to come in the afternoon and do activities with the kids (this is what I do except I am a volunteer).
The other main part of the school is an area with classrooms to teach the blind and the deaf and what they teach here is unbelievably amazing. They teach the basics such as: how to read in Braille and math but what they also teach self-sufficiency. They have a house that is designed for the blind to practice doing household chores so one day they can be self-sufficient at home like cleaning and cooking. The blind also learn to make jewelry so they have a trade to make money in. But most importantly they give them a life that would almost utterly be denied to them if they were living somewhere else.
When I asked what is the number one thing you are lacking in the foundation, of course that answer was funding. Every year it’s a struggle, but they get by. But with little to no government funding it makes things hard. Primarily the donors have been from Europe (not surprisingly because the Europeans have the strongest presence of non-profits in Bahia), but there have been no donors from the United States yet. Thus I have made it my goal to raise over 2000 dollars for the foundation to meet its 400,000-dollar a year budget by the end of August 2012. If you are interested in donating please email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also hope to get a donation site up soon where I can directly deposit the money into the foundation’s international account. But I know that especially now it is not easy for people to donate money. When I was asking questions about the foundation I asked about volunteers. Do they need experience? No. Is everyone welcome? Yes. The foundation has so many projects and so many roles that it needs to have filled so if you or a group of people are interested in volunteering just know that doors are wide open to receive you here. Email me if you have any questions and I can get you in touch with someone that can help you with the details.