May 25, 2012
On Thursday we piled into the CREN van to visit a new center that was built outside of a community called "Vila Nova." This community was originally a favela, but in recent years the government has intervened to provide these residents with amenities to improve living conditions. These amenities include electricity and running water, as well as paved streets and a free medical clinic directly within the community itself. There was also an initiative to paint the homes of the community with bright colors chosen by the families, to give them a sense of control over their surroundings and to provide some asthetic appeal. I must admit the bright colors did make the entire community look very picturesque and did a lot to soften its overall appearance.
We first toured the CREN center with Sonia Vendramaim, who told us all about the different programs provided by the center. This location provided both inpatient and outpatient care for malnourished children, but also catered to older children and teenagers. A computer lab has been set up for their use, and we were even able to sit in on a music class where a group of nine to twelve year old children sang a beautiful song to us that they had proudly practiced for the past month. In addition to classes for older children, we were able to sit in on a needlepoint class for the mothers whose children are attending the CREN center. It was easy to see how proud they were of the crafts that they were making, but we learned that another reason these classes are provided is as a means of connecting with the mothers on a more personal level. A huge belief of CREN is that all the employees at the center are of equal importance, despite their titles. So in this case the center´s psychologist was participating in the needlepoint activity with the mothers in the hopes of further gaining their trust and compliance.
We then visited the free clinic after a ride through the community, and even though the improvements being made were tangible, there was still so much devastation. I remember seeing a group of children playing soccer, running barefoot on a dirt clearing with shards of glass scattered on the ground they were playing on. Their ball was deflated and flat, and the soccer goals didn´t even have nets on them. Other children chose instead to simply play their games in the streets. Inside the clinic, the doctors assured us that each family was provided with free care, and that any children whose measurements were below average were recommended to attend the CREN center for nutritional intervention. But the sounds of crying babies and the exhausted faces of the mothers sitting in the waiting room made us all feel guilty that we were simply passing through on what felt like a tour of these people´s realities.
Our last stop was a local community garden that was being built to provide some of the residents with classes on how to grow their own vegetables, and maintain a garden as a means of supplementing the diets of themselves and their families. Just like in the United States, too often soft drinks and fast food make up the diets of too many who do not have the time or the will to prepare foods themselves, so initiatives like the urban or community gardens will hopefully provide a solution.