Carlos antonio Bezerra da silva

Ashoka Fellow
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fellow Since 1990


This profile was prepared when Carlos antonio Bezerra da silva was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
In a country where philosophies for dealing with street children seem as abundant as the children themselves, Carlos is one of the only "street educators" to focus sharply on the problem of drug abuse among this population. He believes that no attempt to provide drug-dependent children with jobs, education, or a place to live can work without dealing with the drugs. Most social workers, feeling hard-pressed to be effective with drug-free children, shrink from this hardest-to-reach group.Street educators, including the more than 300 in Rio de Janeiro, and others dealing with street children need new approaches specific to this problem. Carlos is providing the pharmacological, psychological, and sociological map they need.
In each of these three dimensions, street children differ greatly from other segments of the population. While middle- and upper-class users pay heavily for alcohol and cocaine, street children abuse common substances such as glue, lighter fluid, cough medicine, and BIN (benzene, ether, and sugar water). Pamphlets about how to help cocaine addicts have little relevance in this quite different world. The needs these children have, be they practical (e.g., to hide hunger) or psychological, are also different. Carlos is at work defining these differences, tracing how they interact, and identifying particularly critical parts of the process requiring early attention.
He's also developing ways of reaching such children effectively, finding ways to engage even the hard-core users in self-discovery. For example, he uses a "sniffing game" to help them realize how sniffing glue destroys (among other things) their ability to smell. In this game, he fills a series of small brown paper bags with wet sand, orange peels, and a variety of other objects with distinctive odors--and then challenges the youngsters to guess what's in each bag based on its smell. Heavy glue sniffers predictably do poorly.
Eventually Carlos hopes to move some of his own interventions to a larger stage than the street, e.g., using a theatre for dance, exercise, and art. He hopes this will evolve into a special "school" for these children. Carlos also wants to create a physical center where street children with serious drug problems can come or be referred for treatment. This center would simultaneously serve as a focal point for street educators and others working with such children.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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