On a Mission in a Concrete Jungle

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Transcript of On a Mission in a Concrete Jungle

LIMERICK LEADER Saturday 21 March 2009


News feature

On a mission in concrete jungleLeader reporter ANNE SHERIDAN reports from Sao Paulo in Brazil where the vital work of Irish missionaries helping societys poorest is supported by development organisation Misean Cara and was also boosted by a donation from JP McManusIMERICK millionaire JP McManus has changed the lives of hundreds of children in one of Sao Paulos drug-ridden slums, but Irish missionaries working in the area believe he may never know the huge difference he has made. The Co Limerickman provided j10,000 to a centre for children in Vila Prudente, one of Sao Paulos more privileged favelas, or slums, among some 2,500 in the city. Fr Pat Clarke, director of the Centro Cultural, said the cheque received in September last was one of the few miracles they have received. Hes made a difference to the lives of hundreds of children hes never seen, and that will never see him, in a faraway place. Id like him to know that were grateful for what he did, though its hard for him to know the contribution hes made, said Fr Clarke, a Holy Ghost missionary, and a native of the Liberties, Dublin. The centre covers five buildings, catering for children in a favela of 18,000 people in an area of 31,000 square metres. Fr Clarke said he initially though writing to the JP McManus Foundation to seek financial help would be a waste of time. But a month after writing the letter, his sister living in the Mid-West received a call to collect the cheque and was told the centre in Sao Paulo had been selected from some 100 applications received each month for assistance. You wouldnt hardly ever get anything like that. Ive had a few miracles. Mostly its crumbs but you dont despise the crumbs. Very few of these children would have the means to break into any social mobility, because they dont have education, finance or culture. People here suffer from very low self-esteem because here


The more you draw back the more space your opponent gets, says renowned peace broker Fr Crowe

youre nobody. Youre in a place you dont want to be and people on the outside look down on you and view you as a potential crook, he said. The Limerick Leader gained entry to the Centro Cultural Vila Prudente after permission was sought from the drug barons who control the area by the missionaries working on the ground. We were watched throughout their visit, where we negotiated our way through narrow alleyways - overshadowed by haphazard, make-shift structures, which thousands of people call home. The centre is protected by armed gunmen at the rear of the property, bordering a railway line from which the favela expanded 40 years ago. However, Fr Clarke, 68, said they dont have a choice in their choice of protection. Its either them or men in official uniforms with guns, he said. The centre for arts and culture caters for people aged eight to 18, and specifically provides an alternative for children and teenagers who spend as little as three hours per day in school. Up to 120 children are on their books at any one time, and Fr Clarke said they wont refuse any child. Some of their mothers are involved in drug trafficking and their fathers are missing. There are kids of eight years of age watching porn on a mobile phone on the side of the road in the early hours of the morning. This offers them an alternative; up to now there were no alternatives, said Fr Clarke. Psychologists are on hand to unravel some of the violent scenes they may have witnessed in their own homes, and above all they aspire to impart respect, integrity and self-esteem to those who come through their doors.

Children sleeping in one of the creches run by Fr Clarkes group. He says the donation by JP McManus has made an enormous difference to the childrens livesulation greater than many an Irish town. Despite Brazils recognition internationally as the worlds ninth strongest economy, more than 50 million people continue to live below the poverty line. In Vila Prudenta, where families of five live on as little as j120 per month, many and any means are adopted to survive. Lorries containing electrical items and food are hijacked, with goods seized for distribution and sale. For the missionaries, the material luxuries of life are few, if non-existent. Fr Clarke doesnt own a TV, a computer or a microwave, and cycles a bike. But he feels he lives an enriched life: I dont know what depression is, and generally feel a basic sense of joy or hope. Tough times are the grease of the mill, but a lot of great friendships are formed in adversity, some of the best. I don't think I've wasted my time here. I'd do it all again. It's not about social advancement but the humanity of people.

Left: Fr Clarke with a parkishioner in one of the favelas in Sao Paolo - a city described as the equivalent of Limerick and Clare together if they were covered in concreteAside from funding from the JP McManus Foundation, they are also funded by Misean Cara, which supports the work of Irish missionaries abroad, through Irish Aid, which was recently decentralised to Limerick. The city of Sao Paulo, with a population of 20 million people, was described by one local missionary as the equivalent of Limerick and Clare together if it were covered in concrete while another noted this particular favela has a pop-

CLONLARA man who has helped broker peace in one of the most dangerous areas of Sao Paulo believes solving the crime situation in Limerick should be very simple. Fr Jim Crowe, an internationally renowned human rights activist, has worked for 22 years in the area of Jardim Angela, once declared by the United Nations as one of the most violent places in world. During that period, Fr Crowe said a person could be killed for as little as 2 because life was so cheap. In 1996 there were 120 deaths per 100,000 people of the population, however that figure has now dramatically reduced to 30 to 40 deaths a year. There wasnt a day youd go without seeing two to three dead bodies on the street. One time there was a dead man in front of a bar and people stepped over him to get a drink. You wouldnt do it to a dog, he said. Like troubled estates in Limerick, violence increased in Jardim Angela in the early 1990s due to rising unemployment and a struggle by drug barons to take control of the estates. However, he believes resources back in the Mid-West should have been much greater to tackle Limericks gang warfare. Things are so straight forward in places like that, where everybody has a name and an address. In Limerick, everybody knows who they [the gangs] are, but here theyre hidden in holes. I dont know why the guards cant control it more. Southill should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, the same with Moyross, said Fr Crowe, of the Kiltegan Fathers, who went to the CBS on Sexton Street. He described the murder of rugby player Shane Geoghegan in Dooradoyle in November last as an awful killing, and noted how in Sao Paulo people only sat up and paid attention to the problem once an elite member of their own society was killed. Change came in Jardim Angela in 1996, when Fr Crowe said they decided it wasnt enough just to


Fr Crowe and a community policeman in Jardim Angela, Sao Paolo

Above: Sao Paolos sprawling skyline. The citys population is 20m peoplepray about the situation. A fan of football, and especially hurling in his native county, he used the lessons of the game in their approach to taking back control of the area, which was a population of 300,000 at least three times that of Limerick city. The more you draw back, he said, the more space you give your opponents. On November 2 of that year they held their first march for life and peace. It continues today, and participation has increased from 5,000 people to 25,000, many wearing white headbands bearing the names of loved ones who lost their lives in what he described as an undeclared war. The transformation of Jardim Angela is now used as a model for other cities, however violence and drugs use is still a feature of everyday life. The Government here has money but the trouble is to get it out of them for the right causes. The money in Sao Paulo is scandalous; the problem is the distribution of wealth. Fr Crowe was awarded a national award for human rights in December last, another in the same field from the University of Sao Paulo, and has been asked on numerous occasions to accept the freedom of the city. Ah sure, I couldnt accept that, leave it to someone else.

The Limerick Leader travelled to Sao Paulo as a guest of Misean Cara, which supports the development work of Irish missionaries abroad, through funding from Irish Aid, now based on Henry Street in Limerick city. In 2008 Misean Cara allocated over j813,000 to fund missionary projects and individuals in Brazil. For more information about their work see www.miseancara.ie.

KILMALLOCK MART EVERY MONDAY PLEASE NOTE CHANGE IN TIMES Calves 10.00 a.m. in Calf Ring Special Section for Fr. Heifer Calves at 1 p.m. CALF COLLECTION SCHEME IN OPERATION Tel. (087) 2526182 Dry Cows 11 a.m. in Dry Cow Ring followed by Suckler Cows & Heifers Weanling Bulls in Main Ring at 11 a.m. sharp followed by Bullocks Dairy Ring 12.30 p.m. NEW SELLING SYSTEM Weanling Sale will start at 11 a.m. sharp. No Entry required. Weanlings must be born after 1st January, 2008. Confined to 100 Lots on a first come basis. Entry System will operate for Bullocks A Draw will take place for starting pen (Pen 1 to 20 will be included in Draw and must be in yard and penned by 10.30 a.m. CATALOGUE BOOKING ENTRY SYSTEM NOW IN OPERATION for Heifers, Bullocks & Dairy Stock Entries will be taken EVERY MONDAY FOR THE FOLLOWING MONDAY SPECIAL ENTRIES MON. 23RD MARCH 1) 10 P.B.R. FRIESIAN CALVED HEIFERS BY GMI., CIX., SOG, TIH Vendor: Sean Crowley, Ardglass, Charlveille 2) 12 CALVED BRITIS