“Blessed be childhood, which brings down something of heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness.” Henri Frederic Amiel
When Sister Angela Mary and Luiz Carlos dos Santos started Projeto Sol in 1982, their aim was to create a space where children and youth could gather in safety and enjoy the tranquility of life off the streets.
From humble beginnings in a shack in a shantytown, Projeto Sol has expanded to two buildings and offers classes and refuge to some 230 children and youth, with many more awaiting the chance to claim a spot when one becomes available.
Sister Angela Mary Carey, C.S.C., grew up understanding the call to mission. Young Patricia Mae was educated by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross (CSC) of South Bend, Indiana, and raised with the notion of service. As a student, she won a diocesan essay contest with her vision of vocation, and dreamed of serving abroad, spreading the Word and the Love of God. She came to Brazil in 1965, first working as a teacher in a parish and later discerning that her calling was with the poor and marginalized youth of the favela of Cidade Dutra. This has been her mission, her passion, since 1975.
Initially, she and her partner-in-mission, Luiz Carlos, focused on the youth who had been jailed due to connections with drugs, trying to keep those young men safe while in jail, and after their release.
Luiz Carlos has been at Sister Angela’s side since she first approached the young sociologist for help, a request to which he responded, “I have dreamed of doing this all my life.” He quit his job for a half-pay stipend funded by charitable donations, and helped Sister Angela Mary to serve the drug addicts of the favelas.
After five years, they recognized that recuperation was a failure, and that, instead, prevention was required. But they needed a place of operations. They found a shack in a lot in the favela, but had no money to pay for it.
“My grandmother taught me to write a check,” said Luiz Carlos, and so they wrote a check for 200 cruzeiros they didn’t have, knowing that St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) would help them find the money.
The next day, they received a donation of 201 cruzeiros. . .200 to pay the debt, and 1 to buy ice cream as celebration.
For five years, Sister Angela Mary and Luiz Carlos fought to keep the site safe, battling drug users, traffickers, and “bandits,” the latter who threatened Luiz Carlos’s life and knocked down and battered Sister Angela Mary. Still, they stood their ground, and eventually the community began to gather around them, one mother declaring that the criminal contingent would cross through a burned gate over her dead body.
Eventually, the bandits abandoned the area, and what had once been five lots of garbage, debris, and pestilence was cleared to make room for the oasis of Projeto Sol.
From these humble beginnings has grown current-day Projeto Sol, which to this day is funded by the generosity of donors such as American Society members and private foundations and individuals.
Projeto Sol is a community-based organization that serves children of the favela, aged 7 to 17. Guided by the belief in the dignity and freedom and human potential of each child, they inspire these children to rise to the challenge of friendship, demonstrating, through immersion in the beauty of art, the enchantment of dance, the enthusiasm and joy of sports, and the fantasy of books, that children can summon their imaginations and creativity to dream of new lives for themselves and others in poor communities.
Finally, they teach the children to envision for themselves lives in which justice and peace will reign.
All of the teachers at Projeto Sol were once students there themselves. They’ve returned from their studies to give back to a community that initially gave them refuge and hope.
“Projeto Sol has at its main goal the integral education and the interior transformation of the children and youth entrusted to their care, through which they become people whose Faith in God is profound and unshakeable, capable of directing their lives with dignity, love and solidarity,” says Sister Angela Mary.
Projeto Sol shows social transformation of the human being is possible through a pedagogy based on the fine arts, culture, and sport, and rescuing the dignity and self-esteem of the individual, based on commitment to the community and valuing family.
“By soaking in the beauty of the visual arts, the charm of the dance, the joy of sports, and fantasy books, our children and young people become able to dream of a new life, a life of peace,” says Sister Angela Mary.
Projeto Sol currently serves 230 children and youth, providing educational and recreational activities, as well as offering daily breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack, perhaps the only meals these children receive in a day.
Those who know São Paulo know that the disorderly accrual of living space in the favelas is largely responsible for the immense difficulties of the poorest sections of the population. The subhuman living conditions, sanitation, and hygiene, as well the lack of public facilities for leisure, sport, and culture, adversely affect the lives of its children and youth.
In an area with more than 250 registered slums and 1.5 million people living in those slums, Projeto Sol is an oasis for children—a haven of health, education, and sanity.
Projeto Sol is currently selling copies of the book Cranky Max and Patsy Mae, a children’s book written by Mary Breslin (Sister Angela Mary’s sister) and illustrated by Sister Angela Mary (in childhood, known at Patsy Mae).
Ninety percent of the proceeds from the sale of the book will fund the work of Projeto Sol, and 10 percent will fund other AmSoc charities. Cost of the book is $10. If you are interested in a copy, please let me know and I will get one for you (payment via PayPal). Donations, of course, are graciously accepted.