Fellow Since 1994
This profile was prepared when Dilma Felizardo Ferreira was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1994.
The New Idea
In most major Brazilian cities, the presence of large numbers of street children, separated from their families and eking out miserable existences in the midst of squalor, crime, and violence, is a long familiar phenomenon. Over the past fifteen years, although public agencies have done very little to address the problem, a growing array of private, nonprofit organizations have developed programs that respond in various ways to street children's health, educational, psychological and emotional needs.A psychologist with a strong commitment to protecting the rights of especially disadvantaged people, Dilma Felizardohas been deeply engaged in such efforts since 1984, when she was a university student in Recife. In 1989, she played a pioneering role in establishing the first program that focused on the particular needs of street girls in that city, and in 1991 she moved to Natal (the capital city of the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte), where she established a similarly path-breaking program for street girls and young prostitutes.In her work in Natal, Dilma became increasingly aware of the critically important roles of mothers of street girls in forcing the girls to the streets, and she also became convinced that the reuniting of mother and daughter is, in many cases, a critically important ingredient in the viable long-term resolution of street girls' needs. But she also observed that the vast majority of the mothers of street girls were destitute and demoralized and saw few prospects for acquiring sufficient economic means to sustain a household.Convinced, therefore, that their mothers' lack of income-generating skills is a critically important obstacle to the development of effective solutions for street girls' needs, Dilma decided to create a program to equip the mothers with the skills and other means required for generating steady, albeit modest, incomes. After examining several possibilities, Dilma decided, with appropriate outside counsel, to develop a small hammock producing industry around the nucleus of a "factory-school."With financial assistance from foreign and domestic sources, a building was purchased, equipment was installed, and the factory school began its operations in March of 1995. In addition to the training that it provides in the use of a simple hammock-making machine, the school offers its students literacy instruction and facilitates their participation in a wide range of community-organized social and cultural events. After a period of several months, when the needed skills have been acquired, program "graduates" obtain the equipment and raw materials required for home production of hammocks through loans from a school-operated revolving fund, and they subsequently repay the loans from their hammock-making earnings.