Changing a Culture

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We often talk about the positive peer culture at Hope. One of the keys to transformation for our kids is that on our campuses they are immersed in a culture that wants the best for them and expects the best of them. Our children are figuratively swept up in a current that guides (propels?) them in a healthy and productive direction. The right culture is at the very heart of all we do.

But what happens when the culture is unhealthy, if it is counterproductive in helping youth channel their lives in the right directions? What happens when a culture has gone horribly wrong?

Last week I wrote about just such an environment—the Brazil entered by Hope two decades ago. It was culture that tolerated the murder of children of the streets. And even when that problem ended, children were still exploited and abused by society, and often by their own parents. And those with the power and the resources to make a difference in those young lives couldn’t be bothered to do so.

And into this milieu stepped Hope Unlimited for Children. Our first task was, and always will be, to take care of the kids. Protect them, help them to be transformed, give them a chance. But there is a concurrent task that is very important, and, ultimately, may have an even bigger impact.

Change the culture.

Let me give you a couple of examples of culture change. When we opened the Hope preschool almost three years ago, we stepped into the middle of a cultural context which provided no Hope for children of the favela. Many of the children would never attend school; all were dirty and poorly nourished; none of the children would engage a teacher or a visitor to the preschool. And, obviously, the problem was not with the children; it was with the parents. Our social workers knocked on every door in the slum, encouraging parents to bring their children. Those who did so brought us their filthy, neglected kids. They would literally drop their offspring on the floor of the classroom and walk out without a word to them. Our social workers would wash, feed, teach—essentially doing all the things that parents ought to be doing. And slowly, slowly, the parents began to get the idea. Kids started showing up with clean faces, ready to engage the day. Parents would come in at the end of the session and sit down on the floor with a child and look at the artwork for the day. Moms and dads started acting like moms and dads.

We will only have the kids until they turn five or six, but perhaps, just perhaps, their parents really grasp the importance of school, of parenting. Perhaps these little ones will have a chance to grow up and break the cycle.

Perhaps an even more important culture change is the larger attitude toward the children we serve. For the first decade of our existence in Brazil, virtually every penny of support for our work came from out-of-country. From a Brazilian perspective, street kids just weren’t worth the investment. But every day, every chance we got, we showed Brazil what some love, some care, and some support could do for these kids. The Hope band marched in every parade. Every civic event, we were there—and our kids were always dressed attractively, always polite, always impressive. Hope graduates became sought-after employees.

A cultural attitude began to change. Leaders who had shrugged off the abuse and exploitation of children began to see them in a different light. Business and government began to invest in children. Brazil began to take ownership of the problem. And now, as we complete our 21st year in Brazil, the vast majority — over 80% — of Hope funding comes from in-country sources!

And the context continues to change… Won’t you come alongside us and watch?

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