The New Idea
To form a mutual help club of physically disadvantaged children and their families so that together they can improve the quality of their lives.
Personal strength and values forbid Marlene to let Erica's tragedy close off the rest of her life. She started seeking for a redirection. Several years ago she placed an ad in the newspaper and began to gather together other families with handicapped children. She received 300 responses. Each of them brought with it a terribly burdened family, as well as a tragic child. The families looked to Marlene for consolation as well as help.Marlene began to conceive the idea of forming a mutual help club of disadvantaged people and their families so that together they can provide an environment in which these children and their families can come out and find some company, appropriate leisure, and even modest work opportunities. Having started by having these families come to her own home and the open space near her apartment building, she has gradually developed an ambitious and quite concrete vision of what she would like to have this "club" (Solazer - O Clube dos Excepcuibais) provide.
The Solazer project has attracted much government and public support. Marlene has been invited to many public functions to deliver speeches explaining her work. The government has also contributed some funds to her program. A small unit of sound equipment, a microphone and an electric typewriter were purchased early this year with official funds, for instance. Above all, the government has granted Solazer some 50,000 square meters of land of which the headquarters and future activities of Solazer will be based.
Right now, Marlene is still developing a concrete strategy for the future. Potentially, her approach to the "exceptional children" in Brazil might spread to a much broader basis. Furthermore, Marlene's vision of hosting an international meeting of "exceptional children" might help spread her model outside the Brazilian borders.
Marlene is an active and charismatic organizer of humble origins. She had been an assistant secretary for two state ministers of education and a teacher supervisor for several high schools before becoming an Ashoka Fellow. She married at the age of 37 and had her first child, Erica, the following year. Unfortunately, Erica was born profoundly disadvantaged. And today, at the age of 15, she is still quadrapelegic and unable to care for herself.