Saving Lives in the Schools and Streets of Porto Alegre, Brazil
by Fabricio Pranav Labre, Patrícia Reis and Dada Maheshvarananda
Inspired by the teachings of Shrii P.R. Sarkar, in 1982 the members of the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT/AMURTEL) of Porto Alegre opened a kindergarten in a poor neighborhood. A philanthropic non-profit association, its objective is “promoting the individual, the child, the family and the community, in all of their dimensions, based on the universal ideas of Neohumanism.”
Today, as part of the Gurukula Network, the Neohumanist Educational (NHE) projects in that city include five kindergartens attended by 270 children aged two to six and a primary school with 290 students. The community actively supports these Neohumanist projects; in fact, the city departments of Education and Health support the schools financially and by donating education materials. The city government and other public and private institutions often invite the schools’ directors and teachers to give lectures and workshops about the principles of Neohumanism to teachers, university students and parents.
Projovem is a project of AMURT/AMURTEL/NHE in partnership with the Municipal Government of Porto Alegre to address the needs of at risk teenagers from 15 to 18 years old. Their goal is to rescue youth who are abused or sexually exploited, whose ties with their family and community have been broken, and to restore healthy family and community support.
Ana Cristiana Aguiar was just five years old when she first saw then Didi Valaka in her orange uniform at the Ananda Marga kindergarten. Orange became her favorite color and Didi’s motherly love made a lasting impression on her. As she grew she developed a keen interest in natural foods and a healthy lifestyle. After she graduated from university, she joined Street Action, a program that confronts the situation in the streets in which the children live with the local community. She says, “When I put on that orange shirt, I know that I’m a member of the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team.” Wearing it, she courageously goes to the worst neighborhoods, talking to people in the community to find out who are the teenagers at risk. Finding them is only the first challenge; persuading them to leave with her is the second. “I never went back to the center without a child. I know who is always helping me — the founder of AMURT/AMURTEL, Shrii P.R. Sarkar.” Now she is the Coordinator of Projovem’s Adolescent Program in two regions of the city.
The Projovem social workers found Michelle, then 15, living with her family beside the local dump where they scavenged for things to recycle. When she started to attend the classes and programs, the other girls harassed and mocked her. Now, a year later, she has learned to speak English and French and has been accepted by GOL Airlines in a special training program to prepare teenagers to eventually become flight attendants.
Once neighbors told the workers about a six-year-old boy who was being abused by his paternal grandfather, the leader of a drug gang. Along with police officers who specialize in youth protection, they confirmed that the reports were true and together removed the child. The workers even received death threats on this and other occasions. But they were able to successfully place the child with his maternal grandmother in another town, where he is now safe to grow and learn.
A teenager, 14, called them and said he was being abused and assaulted in a foster home. With the help of lawyers, the workers were able to remove the boy and place him in a good family. The boy tells everyone he wouldn’t be alive today were it not for Projovem.
Beatriz Kulish was the social work coordinator for the Porto Alegre city government for many years. She repeatedly declared publicly that every project that AMURT/AMURTEL is involved with is invariably excellent, with perfect accounts. Never did she find any irregularities or misappropriation of funds. Her praise in large part goes to Luiz Mincarone, who for 32 years has managed the legal and administrative work, applying for funding and getting it to the hands of the people and programs that need it the most.
Ane Rios is a specialist in educational psychology. She says, “In 2011 I started my professional career working as the General Coordinator of AMURT/AMURTEL in Porto Alegre. I soon became charmed with the philosophy of the Master. I changed my habits, became vegetarian and learned how to meditate. Each day I learned more about ethical values, quality, discipline and subtlety that I apply in this professional and spiritual journey. I feel honored that my career choice allows me to dedicate my life on a mission as special as this institution committed to the pursuit of a more just society with less alienation and more liberation.”
Patrícia Reis, Coordinator for the social and educational projects of AMURT/AMURTEL and NHE (Neohumanist Education) in Porto Alegre for the last 15 years, says, “I consider our work to be about human emancipation in all the spheres of life. I always think about my master Sarkar and how he worked so tirelessly for social justice, to guarantee all the basic necessities so that everyone feels they belong and are well cared for. Our social work fighting drug abuse and sexual exploitation is sometimes dangerous, but it is very rewarding.”