It takes a Village: generations of mothers support each other at SOS Children’s Villages in Sao Paulo

Teenagers Renata* and Teresa* share a unique bond: they both became mothers at a very early age but found solace and guidance from foster mother, Shirley, while living in one of Sao Paulo’s SOS Children’s Villages foster homes. 

In the face of their challenges, they embarked on a journey of learning, working towards a brighter future for themselves and their children. 

Living under the guidance of Shirley, Renata and Teresa experienced a nurturing environment of love and resilience essential not only for their growth, but the growth of their babies.

"Here it's very much like a family, so I – as their foster mother - teach the girls how to take care of their own children because often teenage girls don’t have motherhood experience and don't know how to properly care for their children. I take on the role of their mother."

Children and young people thrive when they have a trusted connection with an adult who listens, validates their feelings, and ensures their safety. And this connection helps them build resilience. 

Renata and Teresa are living proof of this, having overcome difficult circumstances to embrace motherhood together, supported by foster mum Shirley, who considers the two teens as her own daughters. 

Tackling teenage pregnancy in Brazil 

Latin America and the Caribbean has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, with 18% of mothers under the age of 20.   

In Brazil, the birth rate among young women aged 14 or less was 53 per 1,000 adolescents in 2022, compared to a global average of 41per 1,000. While rates have been declining over the last decade, in part due to health and sexual education policies, this figures highlights the continued prevalence of the issue. 

In response to the challenges faced by pregnant teenagers and young mothers, SOS Children’s Villages in Campinas, São Paulo, adopted a proactive stance, starting a foster home aimed at teenage mothers.  

The initiative, which began in 2016, supports adolescents in vulnerable situations, who face social risks such as abandonment, neglect, domestic and sexual violence, among other risks. 

Since its inception, SOS Children’s Villages has supported more than 60 teenagers and their children. 

The dedication of mothers 

A 17-year-old mother of two, Renata, has ambitions of becoming a doctor.  

While the journey of motherhood initially posed challenges, Renata is determined to provide her children (three-year-old André and six-year-old Isabela) with a better life, to break free from past hardships and pursue higher education and a fulfilling career.  

She shares her dreams, saying, “I want a better life, not just for me but for my children too – to study, attend university, work, and give my children the best care possible. That’s my ultimate goal.” 

Teresa became pregnant at the age of 12. While the news brought mixed emotions, she saw it as a new challenge to face. Initially residing with her aunt and uncle, Teresa’s life took a positive turn when she found her way to SOS Children’s Villages in Sao Paulo. 

There, she not only found a new family but the support of young girls who, like her, were navigating similar life changes, all under the care of Shirley. 

Teresa warmly reflects on the bonds she's formed, "I consider Shirley as my mother and the girls here as my sisters, because they always help me, offering advice and support."

These nurturing relationships are crucial for children and young people, helping them overcome adversity and build resilience. 

Teressa’s 8-month-old son, Josué*, also thrived in this new environment. His sleeping and eating patterns improved significantly, positively impacting his early childhood development. 

“Before, he didn’t sleep at night, he stayed up all night,” Teresa recalls. “Now he’s already walking, sleeping through the night, and eating well.”  

Teresa’s dedication to her son shines through, embracing motherhood despite the hardships she’s faced. 

For Teresa, motherhood brings immense joy, and her son, Josué, is her constant companion, filling her life with happiness.  

As she dreams of their future, she says, “I hope he finds happiness wherever he goes and never strays too far from my side.” 

In a Sao Paulo foster home, Renata and Teresa’s stories show the power of a mother figure, as well as the importance of love, support, and resilience in shaping the lives of young mothers and their children, offering hope for a brighter future for generations of young people. 

*Names changed due to privacy protection policy 

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