As The Salvation Army’s ministry in Brazil approaches its 95th anniversary, Salvationists in the Vila dos Pescadores or “Fishermen’s Village” section of Cubatão, São Paulo, are working to be fishers of men. Homes in this riverside community consist of shacks raised up on stilts. Rocks, garbage and dirt are continuously dumped into the water below in an attempt to “reclaim” the Vila’s land from the wash of the Casqueiro River. Fires are a constant danger among the Vila’s wooden buildings and walkways, while Malaria and, more recently, the Zika virus threaten the lives of its people.
Many young people, almost completely abandoned by their parents, have no one to protect them from the risks of becoming involved in drugs or sexual relations. Living in the margins of society, their daily lives are a far cry from the glitter and excitement of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. But the Army has not forgotten the Vila’s people.
The Army’s Cubatão Corps and Vila dos Pescadores Community Center are located near the port area of Santos. The corps’ officers, Majors Salvador and Esther Ferreira, lead their soldiers and employees to continue in the footsteps of early Salvationists.
The two facilities—one in the Vila dos Pescadores area itself and the other in the nearby Jardim Casqueiro neighborhood—offer educational programs for young people ranging from seven years of age through teen and young adult. These young people are also offered religious programs that introduce them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The number of people from the Cubatão Corps who have gone on to become Salvation Army officers, including a married couple now in training, is a testament to the success of this corps and the Army’s social programs.
Rescuing the Children
The Army’s social work in Cubatão started with a tutoring program for children who were attending the Sunday school. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 1,380 children. The freedom with which local Salvationists move through what would be a dangerous environment for outsiders is one indication of how well the community has accepted the Army’s work.
In Vila dos Pescadores, children from 7 to 11 years of age participate in crafts, dance, Capoeira (a Brazilian mixture of martial arts, dance and music), elementary computer concepts, educational games and a workshop called “Claves” (or “Keys”) that helps prevent mistreatment and sexual abuse. The staff also includes a full time psychologist and a social worker, who help with the children’s development over the years.
In Jardim Casqueiro, young people between ages 12 and 17 learn basic concepts of English and more advanced computer skills.
In keeping with the Salvation Army tradition of using popular music to spread its Christian message, the local corps’ Pagode (a variant of Samba) music group often shares the good news of Christ to a Brazilian beat.
In addition to grants from the local government, the center is supported by a small second hand thrift shop that provides low cost clothing to residents of the area.
Many who work in the programs are area residents and former participants themselves—their lives have been changed, much like another group of fishermen we hear of in the Gospel of Matthew:
“One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow Me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed Him” (4:18-20).
Lives are truly being changed in Brazil. Just ask Bruna, a young girl who attends an Army program in the area. She says, “The place in which I live goes beyond the reality of the world, because being a teenager for me is not as you see it in films. I make choices all the time—not about what clothing I should wear to a party—choices that will decide and could interfere with my future.
Participating in all of the activities, I can see that I am being welcomed by the group leaders, the officers and the whole team, who work together for us to enjoy and learn from the programs. Through the activities at the project, I have a wider vision of a better future for myself. I am grateful to The Salvation Army and hope that throughout my life I will find people willing to help me as much as they have.”
Lt. Colonel Doug Danielson is chief secretary of the Army’s Brazil Territory