When I arrived in Brazil for the second time in 2018, I spent three months in Rio. I stayed in Flamengo; a middle-class neighbourhood near the beach, about a fifteen minute drive from the bustle of Copacabana Beach.
One afternoon I was talking with my friend Kyla, who I had met in Portuguese class in Vancouver two months before. She was involved in The More Project* in Brazil for about eight years. Given my experiences in India setting up a school, I was interested to learn more and to see how I could get involved.
Kyla was telling me about her two sponsored boys, João and Caio, and how proud she was of them. I was learning about the children who lived at the boys’ home and how the older ones took care of the younger boys, serving as role models to help set them on the right path. “The boys are so bright,’’ she said. “But sometimes they get desperate. They need money for their family and will be tempted to do just one drug deal.”
The younger boys are often recruited by the senior drug dealers, who control the neighbourhood. They get the younger kids to run errands for them in exchange for money. “It only takes that one time for something to go wrong,” she continued. “We lost four boys last year, all under thirteen years old. One got shot in the head, the others got caught in the crossfire.”
This hit me like a ton of bricks and my heart sank. Why is the world so unfair? Why do children have to suffer like this? Why aren’t people doing more to help stop the violence? I do not fully understand because I have been privileged enough to not ever have to face the choice of doing a drug deal to provide money for my family. I have not had to go to sleep at night listening to the sound of gunfire. It made me wonder if Carlos’ youngest daughter was living in such a situation. I shuddered at the thought of her hiding under the covers at night trying to shut out the terrifying sounds of gunshots.
Two weeks later, Kyla and I went to The More Project after-school program and spent some time with the children. Even though many of them live in extremely difficult circumstances they were normal, happy children. They were laughing and playing and intrigued to take pictures with the foreigners who had come to visit. I was amazed by their resilience
and zest for life. Does one become desensitized to the sound of gunfire
when they hear it every day?