The glamour of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio is a day’s drive away from Uberaba. But, to the children who live in this small neighborhood on the outskirts of Curitiba in dilapidated shacks on unpaved roads, the Olympics might as well be on another planet.

DSCN2462Children Incorporated sponsors five separate projects in Brazil, helping 170 kids gain access to necessities and opportunity. While each program has a place in Andreia Beraldo’s heart, it’s Recanto Esperanca in Uberaba that has left the most lasting impression.

The first time the Children Incorporated Project Specialist for International Programs saw the center, which now serves 64 children, the building barely had a second floor. Two years later, she could barely recognize the place. With three floors, which includes a gymnasium, Recanto Esperanca is by far the nicest and most solid structure in the neighborhood, Beraldo says.

Far from home, one couple shares a vision

But of course, the building is only the gathering place—the real Recanto Esperanca is the people behind it, namely Erika and Thomas Bleiker. The two relocated to Brazil from Switzerland on a mission to do what they could to help impoverished children. Like many poor areas in Brazil, Uberaba presents challenges to its residents. The drug trade thrives here, and children, most of whom are left alone while parents try to earn a living, are especially vulnerable to negative influences. Abuse and violence are an ever-present danger, as are contagious diseases like dengue and zika, and children struggle to stay healthy.

“Both times I went there,” says Beraldo. “You can see the children are so happy. Even the volunteers shared that they didn’t like going back home because they were so happy to be there. Some of them even wished they could come back for the weekend, because it’s so nice and safe and clean.”

In 2004, the Bleikers built their center around the idea that the neighborhood could be changed by fostering a value for citizenship in its children. Recanto Esperanca provides a safe space, where kids can sharpen their minds, participate in recreational activities, build ties with their neighbors, and just play. Before or after school, children busy themselves with computer skills training, sports, art, religious classes, or drama classes.

This summer, the theme is all about the Olympics: practicing new sports and learning more about the countries who are taking part.

The legacy of support

“Both times I went there,” says Beraldo. “You can see the children are so happy. Even the volunteers shared that they didn’t like going back home because they were so happy to be there. Some of them even wished they could come back for the weekend, because it’s so nice and safe and clean.”

DSCN9992Though children are the focus, the Bleikers want Recanto Esperanca to engage parents as well, for support that benefits the entire family. The neighborhood mothers also find themselves at the center, learning new skills, like art, jewelry-making, and more. With this beautiful handmade jewelry as a testament to the effects of Recanto, Thomas and Erika Bleiker have been successful raising funds all over the world.

Children Incorporated was struck by the dedication of Recanto Esperanca’s founders and the impact it was all clearly making on the children. It decided to sponsor children in the program, donating shoes, clothes, school supplies, cleaning products, and even food. These basic resources are not a given for many of Uberaba’s children and teenagers, but Children Incorporated was able to work with Recanto to improve the lives of 59 of them.

Beraldo imagines a near future for Recanto that involves a trained teacher to help with tutoring in the way that a similar hire kicked another center, Caritas, into high gear. She’s already seen that Recanto’s children, who range from six-year-olds to older teenagers, flourish as part of a supportive community, and she knows that more opportunities for academic study will only motivate these kids more.

And something Uberaba greatly needs is educated adults forming a community that looks out for each other. As these children grow up practicing the Swiss sport of floorball, putting on a play with their peers, or learning that someone cares enough to give them some help with their homework, they’re collecting the tools they need to rise out of poverty, perhaps bringing their community along with them.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN BRAZIL?

You can sponsor a child in Brazil in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Brazil that is available for sponsorship.