Amid the anxieties and frustrations of these last months that caused me to be so late in writing this newsletter, I participated in a very important moment in the shanty town (favela) of Canal do Anil and my heart was filled with the joy of victory making the struggle and disappointments all worthwhile. The first twenty families received deeds giving them ownership of the land on which their homes were built! And more will come later as soon as the other dwellers have put together the documents proving occupation of the land. For the Brazilians, the most important asset is the land on which their homes are built, whether they are wood or unfinished brick huts.
If you remember in my newsletters of 2007, the city had invaded our favela and tried to remove it because of its proximity to the Pan American buildings to be used by the participating athletes. Five homes were actually bulldozed, but the community, with the help of outsiders and dwellers of other favelas, and even some Govt. officials, came to the rescue. With the help of lawyers, a judge pronounced the land in this area, for the moment, under judgment, that is, no family and their home could be removed until further notice.
For the past two years, with the help of NGOs working with shanty town (favela) communities to legalize dwellings and urbanize, our community could celebrate this victory with other favela communities. Canal do Anil was chosen as the place for this event because of the fantastic mobilization and unity of this community, small in comparison to other favelas, but whose struggle was so dramatic.
There were lawyers present to accept the documents of other families, and orient people as to how to go about collecting the necessary documents, as well as registering birth and marriage certificates, plus identity cards for the many folk who don't have them and without these, a citizen does not exist.
In addition to this, there were invited speakers, among them myself, as we told the history of this community including some of the victories such as the Family Health Program beginning with our Course for the training of Community Educators. I have been in this community for 16 years now, and much has been achieved but not without tears, disappointments and failures. However, today was a day of real celebration as these 20 families received their certificates of ownership. There were tears everywhere, but also hope shining in the eyes of so many. Yes, we too can have our ownership papers! It will still take time and effort to keep the community hopeful for this land is precious and attracts builders who want to build apartments for the middle and upper classes. The area where our favela is located is prime land as it has the ocean near by, excellent shopping centers, the better roads, and private hospitals. We still have a long struggle ahead of us.
In addition to the speeches and songs of struggle and victories of other favelas, the children of our Family Health Project, that I have talked so much about, gave a play with costumes and all! Led by Lena, one of our nurses assistants, who will become a full fledged nurse in Dec. of 2010, told the history of the community of Canal do Anil from the first fisherman who built their homes along the canal, then clean, in order to fish and sell their wares. However, they told their story in such a manner as only children can do, that tears filled my eyes as they danced and sang the victories of the community in spite of the political and injustice so much a part of the life of the poor. They even had a Dona Barbara (me), a nurse who came to teach others about health and help them bring about the realization of a health facility in the community. All of this brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat and a feeling of gratitude to all of you who have been our support in so many ways. These are your victories, too!
And now for the reasons I am so late in writing this newsletter. Our contract with the city health dept for the Family Health Program was up in January 09, and as in other years when the contract had to be renewed, if you remember, it was always traumatic. However, never as late as this time for it is now almost September, and we just learned this week that the Mayor has signed it but with no salary raises, and this is against the law. Every employee must have at least a % raise per year or he/she can sue the employer and in fact, our NGO is the employer even though the money for the salaries comes from the city. As President of the NGO, I must sign this contract assuming total responsibility.
Rio de Janeiro is divided into various municipalities, each with its own mayor and ours (whom I never supported) pays the lowest salaries of all the others. Thus medical professionals leave our municipality to work in others just an hour or so away to receive more money. As of today, 2 doctors left our clinic to go to another municipality and our nurse Kelly is still working alone. This is difficult for her whole team of two nurse's assistants and 6 health educators and has taken a toll on all of us. Kelly has to rely on the other doctors who are overworked, to take the patients that a nurse cannot treat. With no salary raise, one of our other doctors may leave after 6 years with us. HOWEVER, we hired a young doctor who will begin tomorrow, the first of September. Kelly and her team are excited and hopeful.
There are threats from health professionals in hospitals and public clinics to go on strike. I can't even imagine how our women will take this nor do we want to depend on their loyalty which would be unfair. Our concern is the swine flu which is upon us. We have had at least 4 victims and even our dentist, who is pregnant, has been hospitalized with it. There is so much red tape that is part of this culture than some deaths will be because the medication will not be given in time. The health system in Rio is one of the worst in Brazil but our new mayor is too busy traveling and looking to his political future. He knows the favela well but has always been against it remaining since the floods of 96.
The other disappointing news is that our Physical Therapy program has not been approved and must continue to depend on donations and prayer. I had been told that there was a good chance that it would be. The vice mayor had visited us with other health officials, all amazed at our PT room, small but efficient and pleasant. We manage to treat some 100 patients per week.
I had waited for so long to send this e-mail for I wanted to have good news to tell you, the signing of the contract with raises and approval of the PT program. Forgive the delay and pray with us that these victories will be ours soon.
Sometime ago our friends, Leslie and John Watschke (John visited us this year) sent us a quote which I think fits here.
"The road to success is not straight. There is a curve called Failure, a loop called Confusion, speed bumps called Friends, red lights called Enemies, caution lights called Family. You (we) will have flats called Jobs. But if you (we) have a spare called Perseverance, insurance called Faith, a driver called Jesus, you (we) will make it to a place called Success."
Your partners is mission,
Barb and Gus de Souza
Addendum: At last, victory! The person in charge of the city contracts came to the clinic on Friday to deliver our Association of Community Health Educator's new two year contract to me personally. I read it with so much satisfaction for finally, after more than 4 years of hoping, our contract includes our physical therapy program with our two physical therapists. The girls crowded into the administration room to see me sign it. We felt that this victory needed to be shared with you, our faithful partners.
Of course, there are also sacrifices. We were cut 20% in our administration allowance which will cause expense difficulties as we have 3 buildings to maintain. We also lost our social worker for this function was cut from the Family Health Program. Not only will this be a loss personally for she has worked with me for 10 years, but it also means that we will have to struggle to keep our important children's program going for she was the coordinator. We were also cut the few funds we had to support it. We lost our second dentist too which had been a recent and important addition to our program.
But we are so happy to finally, after seven months of anxiety to have our contract renewed. We know because of the cuts and the insecurity of health supplies, that we will have problems ahead of us, but we have meet challenges before and succeeded.
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.