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A Fully-Baked Idea Brings Economic Stability to Brazilian Moms

When the mothers of the CARITAS-Novo Milenio Center presented the community’s children with their signature jumbo-sized birthday cake, they had a lot to celebrate.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the Grupo Art’Mulher, a group of women who formed a community bakery which sells cookies, breads, handmade pasta – and, of course, cakes!

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Freshly baked cakes by mothers of our sponsored children

Novo Milenio is a poor district outside of Lages, Brazil, a country that simultaneously contains some of the world’s richest culture as well as a disturbingly high level of poverty. The Catholic Church established the CARITAS-Novo Milenio Center to oversee some of the efforts to care for this community at a nuclear-family level, focusing on both child and parent alike.

A priest from the Caritas diocese and a volunteer coordinator keep the place running, with indispensable help from community members.

“The community is very united,” says Andreia Beraldo, International Programs Project Specialist for Children Incorporated. “I could see on my first visit that they’re always working together.” This collaborative spirit is part of the reason Children Incorporated was so interested in getting involved with CARITAS-Novo Milenio in the first place. A willing, creative, and practical community helps spread a program’s reach and deepen its impact.

“The community is very united,” says Andreia Beraldo, International Programs Project Specialist for Children Incorporated. “I could see on my first visit that they’re always working together.”

By early 2016, Children Incorporated had funded a successful tutoring program for the eighty children who attend the center, a vegetable garden project, and (through sponsorships) helped cover the costs of food, clothing, shoes, school supplies, and other neccesities.

So when CARITAS-Novo Milenio proposed the idea of a mother-run bakery that would teach business skills and a trade while generating income, Children Incorporated was ready to get on board.

Teach a Parent, Impact a Child

It’s well-known among those who practice social work with Brazil’s children: if you teach skills to parents, you not only benefit their children’s lives, but you also help another generation of Brazilians become more self-sufficient. Of the five projects Children Incorporated supports in Brazil, three of them focus on developing both the parents’ and children’s skills — all with encouraging results.

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The bakery is improving the lives of women economically

But the bakery, which would be called Grupo Art’Mulher (literally, “Women’s Art Group”), would do so much more than just teach these mothers how to bake. The twenty women who became the program’s first participants were taught how to achieve economic solidarity through the manufacturing and sale of baked goods. The plan was to have a teacher instruct the women on baking cookies, breads, and cakes – and how to sell them.

And sell them, they did! Art’Mulher began making a name for itself at the local market, where its cakes, breads, and pasteis were in high demand.

Of that first group of twenty, many did find jobs making food – and they also found themselves returning to participate in center activities.

“Their increased self-esteem was visible,” remembers Maria Aparecida da Fonseca, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “And this is strengthening the Novo Milenio community.” She credits the program and others supported by Children Incorporated at the center for motivating families to tend to their home gardens, make more nutritious food, and even sell some of their produce at farmers’ markets, and increasing their income.

“Their increased self-esteem was visible,” remembers Maria Aparecida da Fonseca, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “And this is strengthening the Novo Milenio community.”

What’s Next for Novo Milenio?

The eight women who currently bake for Art’Mulher will have good news: the community bakery will be funded another year. But CARITAS-Novo Milenio won’t stop there in 2017; their plan is to initiate music and theater courses in a house across the street from the center. The renovation of that house is also in the plan, and the Art’Mulher mothers’ have donated a small percentage of their bakery income to that very project. That extra space would come in handy, giving the center more space to help more children with more activities.

The ladies from Art’Mulher are sharing the recipe for their popular birthday cake for you to try on your next special occasion:

White Birthday Cake

Ingredients:

2 ½  cups (215 g) flour

1 1/3 cups (275 g) sugar

1 tbsp + 1 tsp (10 g) baking powder

¼ cup (65 ml) water

6 eggs

1 can dulce de leche

Whipped cream or icing to cover the cake

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a mixer, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, water, and eggs in a bowl for 10 minutes on medium speed.
  3. Pour batter into 8” cake pan.
  4. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back from the touch – about 35 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely on rack.
  6. Separate into 2 layers and fill with dulce de leche.
  7. Frost with whipped cream or icing of your choice.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN BRAZIL?

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

Recanto Esperanca

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.

Children 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.

Andreia is Children Incorporated’s Project Specialist for International Programs, and the first time she 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.

“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.”

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.

In 2004, the Bleikers built their center around the idea that the neighborhood could be changed by fostering a sense of pride and self-worth 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 that 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, to support 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 impact of Recanto, Thomas and Erika Bleiker have been successful in raising funds from 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 easily accessible 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.