Changing a culture

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I get very excited when I think about our numbers at Hope: over 200 children in full residential care, 450 teenagers in day vocational and academic programs, 470 children in our preschool — and these numbers don’t even touch the families of our students or the graduates that we minister to every day. Feel-good numbers.
But then the other numbers hit me: millions of children still call the streets home, 400,000 girls forced into prostitution every year. And that’s just Brazil.
No matter how much money we raise, no matter how many sponsors we enlist, no matter many campuses we build, we don’t make a dent in those numbers. Of course, every life saved is important, and we are making an amazing difference for so many children. But many, sadly most, we cannot even touch. 
So what do we do about the millions beyond our reach?
I think the answer starts with the recognition that it’s not our reach. No, we can’t get to all the kids, but we can engage a culture that may not see the problem like we do, that may have resources that we don’t have, that can take responsibility for all those kids. How can we do that?
We start by dealing with the mindset. When we came to Brazil two decades ago, virtually no one thought you could do anything for street kids. Street kids were seen as unsalvageable. Even worse, their plight did not seem to be a matter of concern. The words we heard were “nuisance,” “worthless,” “garbage.” More than anything else, people wanted them out of sight. So, slowly but consistently, we started showing Brazil a different face of street children. A marching band that performed in the Independence Day parade, graduates who became valued employees in local businesses, kids who appeared in public — clean, articulate, and respectful. And, still slowly, the faceless children of the street gained faces and names. And Hope’s problem became a city’s problem.
Then we challenged Brazilians to do something about our – and their – problem. In the early years, 90% of our funding came from the U.S. Today, every U.S. dollar we send to Brazil is matched by two dollars in-country. Every new project in which we engage is totally funded in Brazil. Brazilians are not only claiming the problem as their own, they are doing something about it.
Sometimes it means that we have to play hardball. When the financial cost of our residential and day programs in Vitoria became unsustainable. We went directly to the Governor’s office. And we did not bluff. Our message was very clear: “We can’t continue to fund these programs. The children are your responsibility and we — and your community — expect you to take care of them.” And to their credit, they are now partnering with us.
The problem in Brazil is still enormous, and will be for many, many years to come. But we are no longer fighting it alone. The culture is changing. And this change truly brings Hope.

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