Rio Grande do Sul is one of the richest states in Brazil, in terms of the UN Human Development Index which looks at the welfare of society as a whole.
Even though it has some of the lowest rates of poverty in the country, a significant number of residents still struggle.
One third of children in Santa Maria are poverty-stricken
Santa Maria is a city of 260,000 residents in Brazil's interior, west of Porto Alegre. Though one of the richest states in the country, poverty is a major issue in the state. While the lowest rate of poverty in Brazil is at just 19.6%, over a third of children are still in poverty due to the high birth rate among the poorest groups.
Rural poverty is falling in Brazil, from over 50% in 1990 to 10% in 2008. This still amounts to 11 million people living in severe hardship across the nation. There has been a pattern of migration of the rural poor to the Santa Maria, particularly among men who go to the city and send remittances home to their families in the countryside, who in turn tend the land at home. Children left behind end up working to support the family instead of going to school and improving their future opportunities.
In 2006, 18.4% of babies in Rio Grande do Sul were born to teenage mothers, who are frequently unable to get employment or childcare and live in very difficult situations as their children grow up. Young mothers frequently don't get the education they need to break out of the cycle of poverty themselves. Due to this difficult and tangled situation, less than half of children under six get any form of pre-school or day care.
However, 430,000 families in the state get aid from the Bolsa Familia aid package, which helps families in the worst financial situations. Being in acute poverty, children from these families frequently end up working to support their parents, brothers and sisters instead of attending school themselves. This impacts on their psychological development. Malnourishment is an issue in these cases as well, which impedes the child's physical as well as psychological development.
How we are helping break the poverty cycle in Santa Maria
We set up the SOS Children's Village, Santa Maria in 1980. It now runs a social centre which reaches a large part of the poorest of the community, as well as looking after children who can no longer live with their parents.
The social centre runs a family strengthening programme, designed to ensure family cohesion and ensure children at most at risk stay with their parents. It also runs day care and child minding facilities which care for children while their parents go to work. We also address the needs of parents, giving support and training to over 1700 adults, tackling the causes of poverty at root. By being able to work, and progress at work with new skills, so parents can better provide for their children's future.
For children who can no longer live with their parents, there are five SOS families in our Children's Village which provide a loving home, lovingly cared for by their SOS Mother. Children attend school in the local community, developing networks and bonds outside the Children's Village.