After five long months in which the Pink Houses have stayed shut amid Brazil's ongoing coronavirus crisis, we finally started to open again this week!Cândido Sales was the first to receive girls again, followed by Catuji, while Medina and Padre Paraiso are expected to be given permission from local health authorities soon.
We have had to follow Covid-19 guidance given to each house by the local council, so staff have to use PPE, face masks are compulsory, and the girls' temperatures are taken before they come in, among other measures. We have also had to limit the number of girls who are in the houses at one time, so there will be three groups of girls coming for shorter times during each day.
But despite the restrictions - Brazil is still in the midst of the pandemic - we are so pleased that we are now able to see the girls personally for some time, allowing our staff to care for them more closely, have conversations they were unable to do at a distance or while visiting them in their homes, and be able to continue the work of reaching and empowering them.
We know, though, that coronavirus will bring long-term consequences for vulnerable girls in the communities where we work, with already struggling families having been pushed further into poverty and deprivation, many losing their jobs and sources of income. Our teams have reported an increasing number of girls being sent to the streets to provide for their families, and a number of our girls have fallen pregnant during lockdown. More girls are reaching out to our teams asking for support and protection. We believe that over the coming months there will be many more girls in each of the towns where we work who need our help. If you can, please support us by giving a donation or a small amount monthly at www.meninadanca.org/donate.
Our work in Cândido Sales has resulted in the delivery of a brand new car to the town's children's council, a municipal body which provides children's services. Meninadança served for a year as president of the Municipal Council for the Rights of the Child, when we fought for the Federal Government to provide a vehicle, to enable children's council staff to visit young people in need, many of whom live in distant rural areas. The car was finally delivered this month!
Last week a team from our Belo Horizonte office travelled to all four Pink Houses to provide support and guidance as the projects prepare to restart activities. Warlei, Orlindo and dance coordinator Barbara spent the week helping our Pink House teams get ready to start receiving girls again, planning activities and discussing individual cases. They also visited our newly-rebuilt Pink House in Padre Paraiso, which was delayed because of Covid but will soon be inaugurated!
Protecting girls means ensuring they are safe in their own homes. While visiting the home of one of the Pink House girls in Medina, coordinator Cristiane discovered that neither she nor her sister had a bed. It meant that the two young sisters had to either sleep on the floor, or share her mother's bed, who had just moved in her new partner live with her. Concerned for the girls' comfort and safety, Cristiane spoke to our support team in Belo Horizonte, who mobilised Brazilian supporters, raising enough money to buy beds for both sisters.
The girls were overwhelmed when, a few days later, we delivered the beds to their home, along with their own bed clothes and towels. It was the first time they had their own beds to sleep in.
Meninadança's work in protecting girls from abuse is needed now more than ever. According to new figures, in 2018 Brazil registered at least 32,000 cases of child sexual abuse - twice as many as were reported in 2011. 58% of victims were aged between 11-19.
Yet during 2019, the new government of far-right president Bolsonaro stopped many federal government social projects dedicated to preventing sexual abuse and exploitation among the poorest. One government commission which brought together departments to try to tackle sexual exploitation was desbanded. And a new rule has banned schools, which helped talk to pupils about sexual abuse and identified cases, from discussing the subject with pupils.
Meninadança will be stepping up our work fighting for girls' rights with a legal team, starting next month, and more ways you can pressure for change. More details coming soon.
Lockdown helped us go deeper into girls' lives
by Warlei Torezani, Meninadança's Brazil director
The coronavirus pandemic took us by surprise, coming at a time when we were seeing the wonderful expansion and success of the work of the Pink Houses.
It suddenly forced us to review and rethink how we work with the girls, and challenged us to find ways to maintain daily contact with them and their families. In this way many good things have happened that simply wouldn't have if it were not for the pandemic, and for which we are thankful.
First of all, I believe our girls discovered, if they had doubted, that they really are loved by and important to us, as our teams surprised them, and us, by creating bridges to reach the girls, wherever they were.
Those bridges took the Pink House teams to a place called “intimacy”, where they were able to get to know the life stories of the girls and their families much more deeply, as the work began to be individualised.
With daily home visits, and much more time to spend with each family, the work that had taken place in the Pink Houses began to be realised inside the girls' own homes, with amazing results. It helped us to build up trust with the girls' mothers, while strengthening even more the ties of friendship with the girls. We met needs, ensuring families didn't go hungry or get ill without seeing a doctor; we spent time talking over their issues and problems; we surprised the girls with visits, home-made cakes, celerbated their birthdays and kept asking how they were. The Pink Houses, even closed, continued to be a lifeline to them. Our teams would often be greeted by an excited girl and the phrase: "I knew you would come."
The moment we are living in is not easy, but after many years of work, we are once again learning how to do a work we had thought we already knew. What happened during lockdown will have a lasting effect on our work and change the lives of girls, and their families. Because if it, I believe that we will achieve a much more excellent result!