Every morning when the sun rises in Brazil, thousands of children don’t have any breakfast. To stave off hunger, they usually drink weak coffee mixed with toasted cassava flour – this mixture without nutrition fills the stomach for some hours. It isn’t rare that this breakfast is the only meal they have during the day.
“If you ask them at night if they have eaten during the day, they will say certainly they have. For them, the coffee was a meal,” says Acilâine, director of Bom Samaritano (Good Samaritan) Child Development Center. “They are used to starving. Unfortunately, it is normal here.”
“Here” is Codó, a city located in the northeast of Brazi that most Brazilians have never heard of. According to official data from IBGE (Brazilian Statistic and Geographic Institute), 74.5 percent of the families make a living out of less than $1.50 per day.
Despite its 100,000 inhabitants, there is no public transportation or pavement in most of the city. According to IBGE, 70 percent of the residents have no access to basic sanitation, and 25 percent have no access to garbage collection.
To reach the city from São Paulo, you must fly for three hours and arrive in Teresina, capital of the neighboring state, where the closest airport is located. From there you must get a bus to Codó, and this travel also takes three hours at least.
It is another country inside the biggest country in South America.
It is a forgotten poverty-ridden place, where many children walk naked on the streets because they don’t have clothes or, if they have clothing, it is only old underwear or a donated T-shirt. Most people live on rice and “cuxa,” a food rich in iron, but not sufficient for all of their nutritional needs.
Acilâine and her husband, Edivaldo, are the pastors of the Evangelical Christian Church in Codó. They’ve partnered with us since April 2010.
Before the partnership, they worked with children on Mondays teaching Bible stories, but didn’t have enough money to buy materials or snacks for the hungry children of the neighborhood.
With the partnership, the church bought a computer, a printer, tables, chairs, plates, glasses, a stove, a water filter, some pots, gas cooking equipment, a kitchen cabinet and school materials. With the child development center equipped, the missionary couple was ready to help children with their main issue, malnutrition.
Mateus is only 6 years old and has attended the center since its beginning. He lives with his mother, two siblings and his stepfather. His mother is unemployed, and his stepfather is an informal worker.
The family’s house is a typical house in Codó: the walls made of clay and the roof made of straw. The dwelling is composed of a single large room where they sleep, eat and meet. A hammock separates the bedroom from the living room, and the kitchen — an earthen jar of water and a table and a stove made of clay — are on the right side of the room.
On the kitchen table, there are pots containing a weak herb broth, dirty plates with leftover rice, and spoons. Because of the hot weather and the leftovers, there are many flies.
The toilet and the shower are outside. For toilets, they simply have a hole dug in the ground. To take a bath, they improvise a shower box with straw. The water is kept in a bucket and they bathe using a small mug to pour water over themselves.
This poverty is a cruel weapon Satan uses against children — to make them believe that they are nothing and that nobody cares for them.
But Jesus cares.
At noon the sound of pots boiling an onion sauce or rice on a stove made of mud fills the empty streets. The strong sunlight forces people to stay home. But inside the Compassion center, there is another sound: the sound of silverware hitting the plates and children eating.
Acilâine remembers the early days serving lunch. She asked the children to stay in line, but they were desperate, thinking that the food would be gone before their turn. She vividly remembers one time a little girl took the food with hands and began rubbing it on her face.
“Now they know that when they come here, we will have enough food for everyone.”
The only nutritional meal that Mateus has is at the center. His school performance is below average and one of the causes is his malnutrition. Mateus also never had a Bible or heard the gospel before he enrolled at the center.
Voodoo culture is strong in Codó. This city is known in Brazil as “the capital of Voodoo.” According to the pastors, many people don’t accept the gospel because they are afraid of the witches.
To encourage people to read the Bible is difficult because almost half of the population is illiterate and 61 percent have less than two years of education. Therefore the Bible must to be spoken to the hearts of the people through attitudes, help and love, showing them the Jesus who cares about their life and wants to change their reality.