By Mira Olson, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Whilst private initiatives to better the lives of Brazil’s poor have grown abundantly in recent decades, relatively few do so effectively from abroad. An extraordinary exception to this is Blessings for Brazil, a New York-based grassroots organization dedicated to helping Brazil’s children by supporting educational efforts in the favelas.
Unlike other non-profits that provide services directly to a community or that simply send money to causes of interest, Blessings for Brazil works in collaboration with several existing social programs in Brazil that otherwise receive little outside support in order to meet short term needs and also help these bridge the gap between the their current situations and where each aspires to be.
On one front, the N.G.O. raises funds and gathers materials for schools and community projects and assists with the implementation of local educational improvements and sustainability projects, such as establishing and transforming libraries.
Through the Teacher Enrichment Program, the organization provides educators from disenfranchised areas with small grants in order to implement activities or projects that will enhance the students’ learning experience.
Operating since 2007, Blessings for Brazil is a still a young initiative, but one that is having a remarkable impact. In the last three years, the organization has raised and distributed nearly USD$4,000, donated over 1,000 items including educational materials, books, instruments, clothing and school supplies, and has helped improved the lives of over 500 children living in poverty.
Lauri Francis, the organization’s founder, explains that their intention is to work with teachers and schools to carry out a given project, rather than simply be a source of funding.
“Our goal is not to give everything,” she states, explaining that they teach the N.G.O.s how to fund-raise and then match those funds. Francis makes frequent trips to Brazil to help monitor progress, and the organization’s in-country coordinator works with the N.G.O.s to ensure that monetary donations are allocated appropriately.
Francis first visited Brazil while on vacation in the spring of 2007. “What I saw was startling,” she recalls. “What shocked me most were the children on the street.”
She returned to Rio that summer to work as a volunteer in the library of the Solar Meninos de Luz school in Pavão-Pavãozinho, “taping up books that we’d throw away in the U.S.” Upon returning to America, Francis recruited the help of several friends who began raising funds and gathering materials to send to Solar. Soon after, Blessings for Brazil formally took shape.
Currently, the American N.G.O. is supporting four Brazilian initiatives: Solar Meninos de Luz, O Mundo da Arte and Escola Moranguinhos, all in Rio, and Esther’s Children Orphanage in Recife. Francis says that they are also preparing to launch another collaboration in São Paulo.
As a testament to their dedication to the cause, all members of the Blessings team are volunteers, and nearly all have been with the organization since the beginning.
Raymond Cummings Jr., a board member and the Director of Editorial Projects, explains; “I initially became involved with Blessings for Brazil to support Lauri. . . . Because I am also an educator committed to serving youth in high-need communities, Blessings for Brazil also presented a wonderful opportunity to take part in educational outreach and support for disenfranchised youth.”
Francis explains that just as they are helping other organizations become sustainable, the organization itself is going through a similar process. “We are limited by what we can do, but we have been very blessed so far.”
In upcoming months, Francis plans to arrange Portuguese classes for the U.S.-based Blessings volunteers so that they can also participate in the trips to Brazil and witness the outcome of their hard work. “I may be the founder, but it’s not me alone,” she concludes.