Monday, September 9, 2013

Changing lives of poor Brazilian families, Saúde Criança wants to do the same globally

Saúde Criança offers job training, like this class for aspiring cooks.

NOTE: This originally appeared in the Huffington Post on Sept. 3, 2013.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Maria do Carmo has no husband, but has a daughter, Simone, "who is 37 but acts like she is three," she says, and is completely dependent on her. Simone was impregnated during a rape and gave birth to a son, Victor Hugo, now three, who is blind and mute, has cerebral palsy, gastroenteritis and almost died of pneumonia. This was Maria's life two years ago. The family had no government benefits even though both Maria's daughter and grandson are eligible. She wept as she told her story.

Then Saúde Crianca, a social entrepreneurial non-profit organization founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, came into her life. They helped her understand her rights as a citizen, and to obtain benefits for her grandson. She still needs help for her daughter but, unfortunately, the government only allows benefits for one person per family. Saúde Criança is prepared to give her job training, but Maria has no time for classes, because she has to take her grandson to the doctor everyday.

Maria is an extreme -- but not unusual -- example of the kinds of cases that Saúde Criança handles everyday in their offices in the green splendor of Parque Lage in the neighborhood of Jardim Botânico. It was created by Dr. Vera Cordeiro after several years of treating patients at Hospital da Lagoa, where she noticed that many sick children were admitted and cured only to return to the hospital later, almost always with the same disease. Dr. Cordeiro founded Saúde Criança to try to break this devastating cycle of disease-hospitalization-discharge-misery-disease.