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Rich in Spirit - Life in the Favelas of Brazil

By Christian von Arnim
London, 5 October (NNA) The recently concluded Earth Summit in South Africa placed a spotlight on the deprivation which exists in many parts of the world. Once again the issues with which the meeting concerned itself graphically illustrated as if more evidence were needed the huge gap which still exists between rich and poor and the huge efforts which are required before we can even begin to talk about a sustainable future for the world and greater fairness in the distribution of wealth between the rich industrialised countries and the rest.
How often, when we see the pictures in the newspapers or on television of children starving as the result of man-made famine or the hovels of Third World slums, do we think briefly to ourselves: “I wish I could do something about that!”
Yet the most we are able to contribute in the circumstances of our life is perhaps to make a donation to an aid organisation working in famine relief or helping children survive life on the streets of world cities.
Sometimes, however, a person is presented with an opportunity to do something directly or perhaps they even create that opportunity and they grasp it with both hands.
Such was the situation of Ute Craemer when she originally came to Brazil as a social worker for a German development agency, moving on to become a class teacher in the Sao Paolo Waldorf school. A desire to help the poor led her to set up house next to the Monte Azul favela (shanty town) providing a space for children to come and play games and hear stories. This eventually led her to establish a small school on municipal land with an unexpected donation from Germany, working in the heart of the shanty town.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Today the Monte Azul Community Association, working on the basis of the principles of anthroposophy, provides a whole host of services to the people of the shanty towns of the Brazilian metropolis.
Now Ute Creaemer and her co-workers have allowed us to take a peek at the work of the Community Association in a new book about the project.  
This is not the first time that Ute Craemer has written about her work (Favela Children - A Brazilian Diary, also a Southern Cross Review Ebook), but in Rich in Spirit. Life in the Favelas of Brazil we are given a snapshot of what it is like to live and work in the Favelas, told through they eyes of Ute Craemer herself as well as her co-workers.
These accounts are interspersed with fairy tale stories illustrating in an imaginative way the deeper meaning, purpose and achievements of the work.
Many different aspects are covered in the book. They range from some thoughts on how to start and develop social work in the Favelas via an account of the daily activities in a créche or of work in a notorious prison for children to the description by a doctor of the issues confronting the medical work of the Community Association. And that is to pick out just a few of the contributions in this volume.
We are also confronted with the real dangers of the work undertaken by Ute and her fellow staff. “Marginalisation” gives an account of the risks to young people caught between the destructive influence of the drug dealers and the brutality of the police which is all the more shocking for the sober way in which it is told:
“What really impressed me in this way of life of theirs was they way they talked about what they had already done and what they had already suffered, for example at the police station. I saw no sign of remorse on their part for what they had done, or compassion for the people they had attacked.”
And yet: “On the other hand they are sensitive, they are delighted by the beauty of a picture or by a story.”
Or the description of the death of a drug dealer:
“1988 was very bad for the Favela. A local drug dealer named Chacrinha operated from the lower part of the Favela. He made friends with the youngsters, totally ignoring the wishes of their families, played with a gun and smoked pot in the street. A lot of the children regarded him as a hero, a symbol of today. His girl friend was Terezinha, a beautiful girl, a former student of ours, the daughter of Ana and Nezinho, migrants from Santa Helena in Minas. One day he was killed. Terezinha leapt onto his body to protect him and was also killed. There are no words to describe the tension pervading the Favela until after Terezinha’s funeral. No one prayed openly. I silently said an Our Father to give her soul at least some company, to provide a counterweight to this atmosphere of fear, hate and sadness.
But it is precisely when we get to life in the raw that this book also reveals the source from which Craemer draws the strength to work with people -- youngsters and children -- who have been rejected by everyone else:
“Death should be transformed gradually into resurrection, a new life; we should not run away from it. There, in the midst of guns, fear, violence, emptiness, shamelessness, that is our place. We need to bring light to the darkness, to fill the emptiness. Not by shutting up the spiritual in a little box, merely designated for Sundays and leisure time, but making it an integral part of life.”
And then there is the striking account of a robbery, “An ominous day - but not only”, the consequences of which eventually led to Ute Craemer being forced to leave her work in the favelas for her own safety.
“Poverty as an abstraction does not lead you to engage in something; rather, the problems and misery of a certain child or person might inspire you because you created an inner link between yourself and another human being,” Ute Craemer writes in a thought which might well sum up her approach and motivation.
What this book illustrates, then, is how one person made that leap from poverty in the abstract - the newspaper or television picture, however moving - to the real inner link. The result is an organisation which acquired so much of a life of its own that Ute Craemer, forced by the circumstances described in the book, has now been able to leave its day-to-day running in other hands.
“The story told here is taken from life,” Craemer writes, “and as they say in Brazil: Deus sabe como vai terminar. (Only God knows how it will end). It is only one example of innumerable stories in the world that remain untold.”
Yet this story has been told and it is well worth reading.
“Rich in Spirit - Life in the Favelas of Brazil by Ute Craemer and the Co-Workers of the Monte Azul Community. A Southern Cross Review Ebook available at

Item reference number: N021005-01EN
Date: 5 October 2002