Regina Pedroso has successfully developed and demonstrated an innovative, decentralized, locally funded, large scale program to educate and train poor children. Now she is setting out to share her approach with more than 4,000 municipalities throughout Brazil. She is also organizing an alliance of those concerned with children to champion their interests.
The New Idea
Regina is setting out to create a national effort to help build new, effective support for Brazil's many millions of poor, at risk children.
Her work builds out from the very successful model she developed in Sao Jose dos Campos, a city of 268,073 people in Sao Paulo state. Her program there now serves 2,000 children.
According to Regina, "The program has succeeded where others failed due to its comprehensive approach -- it deals with children in a consistent and reliable way. It provides education, work training, meals, medical services, and, above all, the opportunity of working in meaningful jobs."
She has been able to open the door to jobs for these youngsters in a number of ways. Building on an earlier success where she created a series of new enterprises for the city's unemployed, she's continued creating new jobs directly. However, to be able to reach many more children with better opportunities and to build more of a private base for her work, she's shifted her focus to a quite unusual, for Brazil, series of agreements with private businesses.
Today her organization, the "Fundacao de Atendimento a Crianca e an Adolescente Professor Helio de Souza" (FUNDHAS), has agreements with 47 companies that provide paid training. (The money is essential to keep children in school and training programs since they have to contribute to their families' livelihood.) These socially responsible companies also provide adult role models many times absent from those children's lives, in the form of "big brother" type supervisors. She's also involving other elements of the community.
The success of the education/training program spurred new activities such as UCRAMI, which deals with child abuse cases and provides among other things hot line services; UNAJAM, which provides assistance to children with family and/or legal problems, and UNIDEM, which runs two "houses" for street children, one catering specifically to drug addicts.
Regina created FUNDHAS as a private organization. This allows her to reach out beyond Sao Jose dos Campos. It also protects her work from the disruptions that are otherwise the almost inevitable consequence of changes of party and leadership in the municipality. This shift has made her work to engage others in the community even more important.
However necessary being independent is for the current stage of Regina's own work, one of her core objectives is to strengthen the municipalities' initiative, capacity, and sense of responsibility regarding their children. She's set about organizing local children's alliances in cities and towns all across the country involving both municipal officers and private groups who care. She helps disseminate good ideas and encouragement. She encourages the sort of public/private collaboration she's found so useful. She is, in effect, encouraging the emergence of local children's lobbies community by community.
Regina has also started to champion legislation designed to help children. One of her early (successful) efforts has given them more equal rights as workers. She is also pushing to give the municipalities more local revenue and therefore ability to expand -- a fundamental shift in Brazil's heavily centralized fiscal system.
Having developed a model, and still very much engaged with this front line work, she's now setting out to stimulate and help 4,000 other communities build analogous capacity and drive to experiment and act.
The plight of poor children in Brazil is not new; a government study in the late 1970s put the number of children at risk around 13 million. Since then the situation has deteriorated considerably, due to Brazil's serious economic crisis, and the number of children at risk surpasses 20 million. Until recently these children were the responsibility of the Federal and State governments through the Febem and Funabens. This highly centralized and bureaucratic system of attendance not only was inefficient, wasting scarce resources, but also promoted what Regina calls a "perverse cycle" -- treating poor and abandoned children in institutions designed to deal with delinquents and actually transforming them into bandits.
Regina is one of the founders and the national coordinator of the "Frente National de Defesa dos Direitos da Crianca," (FNdC) an organization created in 1985 with the objective of promoting the children's issues and advocating their rights, especially under the new Brazilian Constitution. The FNdC also disseminates successful experiences and alternatives in dealing with needy children. In the recent years FUNDHAS has been its showcase, accompanied by the promotion of municipal nuclei for children's defense and services.
The FndC has 6,000 members in 18 Brazilian states, and works with institutions such as UNICEF and the Catholic Church's "Pastoral do Meno." Its advocacy activities have contributed to raise the awareness of government and society not only to the problems of poor children but also to the potential solutions.
Last year one of the most important proposals of FNdC was made into a constitutional decree. The work with needy children is now primarily a municipal responsibility (as opposed to being spread throughout a number of different government agencies at national, state, and municipal levels). Taking advantage of this new legal situation, Regina plans to travel throughout the country to disseminate her ideas and to provide advice in the planning and implementation of similar programs. She has already been contacted by many cities with different characteristics, and she plans to have a series of pilot cases to make the multiplication and training of personnel easier.
A student leader at the school of social service and at law school, Regina has vast experience as a social worker and political activist. In the early 1980s, she was invited to coordinate Sao Jose dos Campos' program for needy children. Deeply impressed with the depth and breadth of the problem, she decided to "prove that there were alternatives that could change the situation drastically but that require the involvement of all sectors of society" and she vowed to put government, business and the communities to work for the children.