In one of the world’s largest metropolises, social segregation is very strong

Children with their SOS mother (photo: M. Greco)
Children with their SOS mother (photo: M. Greco)

The SOS Children’s Village Poá is located in São Paulo, capital of the state of the same name, on the southern coast of Brazil. São Paulo is the southern hemisphere’s largest city and has a population of over 11 million, and approaching 20 million in its metropolitan area. The so-called Extended Metropolitan Complex of São Paulo, which includes conurbations bordering the city, has a total population exceeding 29 million.

In addition to heavy air pollution and traffic congestion, this population explosion has led to a number of other critical problems. Large sections of the city developed without any urban planning whatsoever – entire neighbourhoods virtually sprang from the ground overnight. Today, around one million of São Paulo’s inhabitants live in illegal “favela” settlements. Some of these are built on precarious terrain prone to landslides or flooding, and there are even so-called “vertical favelas” – huge, run-down tower blocks where families live in overcrowded, appalling conditions.

São Paulo therefore continues to be a deeply divided and socially segregated city: a major industrial hub and important economic centre on the one hand, with cheap labour provided by the inhabitants of the many underdeveloped, underprivileged neighbourhoods.

Lack of education and stigmatisation deprive children of the chance they deserve

Life in the favelas is far from easy. Crime rates have successfully been reduced in recent years, but they remain at high levels and often affect young people most severely. Those who grow up in the favelas are hugely stigmatised throughout their lives; they are viewed as criminals or drug dealers and are often met with fear by people from better-off neighbourhoods. For the thousands children born into these conditions, it can be extremely difficult to overcome these prejudices on the road to becoming a successful adult.

Our approach towards giving these children a fair chance includes supporting families, thereby ensuring that children have a loving home, don’t have to work and can stay in education.

What we do in São Paulo

Playing outside together (photo: M. Greco)
Playing outside together (photo: M. Greco)

SOS Children’s Village Poá in São Paulo began its work in 1968.

Strengthening families: The SOS Family Strengthening Programme provides much needed support to families who are at risk. We aim to reach out to those who are especially vulnerable. We ensure that they have access to services and that children go to school. We also run a community centre which offers day care for children, training (for parents to make some income) and activities (such as sport lessons).

Care in families: For children from the area who are no longer able to live with their parents, SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. All children attend the local schools and this way they are part of the community. When the children grow older, we give them training and advice so that they can find a job.

Support for young people: Qualified counsellors support young people while they pursue further education or vocational training, some of which is delivered by SOS Children’s Villages. Young people learn to take responsibility, plan their future and prepare for independent adult life.