Empowering the Youth in Brazil

Empowering the Youth in Brazil

By Sisters Nilza dos Santos & Margaret Nakafu, MMM

In Brazil, according to the National Youth Council created in 2005, young persons are those  between 15-29 years. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics 2021 Report states that the Brazilian population is 214 million and the youth correspond to 23%, an equivalent to 47 million.  The youth represent 1/3 of the economically active population.  However, despite their high productivity, 27.1 million are unemployed.  The alarming data reveals that a quarter of the youth neither study nor work.  This leaves young people vulnerable and with increasing cases of anxiety and depression. They are also vulnerable to being recruited by gangs and using drugs.

It is in this context that the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Salvador initiated a project to accompany and empower young people.  It helps them discover their potential and foster their wholistic growth.  The project is being implemented in collaboration with the Carlos Santana II College, a public college. The project team consists of two MMMs and a psychologist. They use a friendly methodology with the youth, listen and empower them.  The aim of the project is to foster an integral development that awakens young people to rediscover their inner strength, have a sense of purpose in life and work towards their socio-economic, spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

The project team members meet the youth, on a weekly basis, with different themes during the sessions. The sessions are a forum to express and share their challenges, fear and hopes.  Here we share the story of ‘Iris’.   Iris is aged 16 and lives with her mother and stepfather in the congested neighbourhood of Nordeste de Amaralina. At the first meeting, Iris showed some resistance to the project´s approach and activities.  She entered the room apathetic, sad and her face was down.  She did not want to participate in the group activities.  In a simple guessing game that consisted of telling one truth and two lies about oneself, Iris revealed that her truth was “I want to die”.  Iris’s statement raised a lot of concern from her classmates and the project team. “What would lead such a young person to think that the truth about herself is wishing to die”?

The psychologist said that “the desire for healing is the first step to be healed”.  And that’s what Iris’s story is all about. The project team, in network with the school headmaster, engaged Iris in a series of individual conversations to help her to access her perception and cognitive tools, bringing about a sense of purpose.  It is very important to emphasize that the management of suicidal behaviours is addressed by both professional and systematic interventions.  Therefore, she was referred to another psychologist who will have the tools and the time Iris needs.  Having this support, she can go through a process of healing.

In the beginning, Iris resisted going to a psychologist, with the idea that she did not need a personalised accompaniment. “The group sessions alone will help me”, she said.   After much discernment, both with her and with her mother, Iris accepted to take this first step on the journey to her healing.

For some people with suicidal behaviour or thoughts, their primary desire is not death, but a different life.  They seek any way to not feel the pain that consumes them.  It was based on this that the case of the young Iris was handled.  The project team uses a friendly approach that welcomes, listens, and accepts the young person as they are, using gentleness and compassion to offer them a space of trust in order for them to feel loved and supported and embrace the journey as they heal.

“Wherever you are, whatever you do, let there be in your heart a space for others to be, so that unafraid, they may experience themselves as loved and so be healed” (MMM Constitutions 7.3).

Once Iris felt that she was heard, accepted and loved in gentleness and compassion, she started seeing other possibilities of dealing with her pain and suffering.  We hope that Iris will persevere on this journey and discover herself as loved and unique in this world, someone capable of healing others, because she has been healed.