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How Bravery Healed My Bruised Heart

“When my son began to participate in the project, a new flame of hope ignited in my heart. There he had access to learn things.”

brave mum in Brazil

Courageous doesn’t begin to describe Silvana. In her 28 years she’s witnessed violence, experienced abuse and suffered the unimaginable grief of losing a child. Yet, she considers her bravest moment to be going back to school.

This is her story, told in her own words.

Everything is not fine

“Every adult is a child who was born long ago, says 28-year-old Silvana from Brazil. “I bet my kids don't even believe I was like them, but I was.

"I still remember when my sisters and I used to lie with our mother in the hammock of our house and count the vertebrae of her skinny belly. I remember laughing and making fun of her, saying she looked like a bag of bones. I had no idea the reason for her skinny belly was starvation. It was only when I grew up that I realised she was famished so we would have something to eat a few times a day.

"My mother had also once been a child like me, but to me, she was the strongest woman I knew. I still remember how she protected us when our father used to come home drunk and want to hit us.

"I remember the countless times I saw her slim, weak body get beat up severely by our father. Yet, she used to say that everything was fine. A lot of people might ask why she didn't leave him, but at that time it was even harder to be a single mum. If life was difficult with our father, it would have been even harder without him.

"Whenever I saw my mother cry, my eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with fear. My younger sister was braver. I remember once when I was five, she jumped on our father to protect our mother, but I always remained frightened. When we got a little older, my brothers convinced my mother to leave my father and promised that they would protect her. I always promised myself that I would have a different life.”

Poverty is always present

Brazilian family in poverty

“When a child is born in poverty and has no help from anyone, he or she will probably and unfortunately become an adult living in poverty. Even when living with shortage, an adult dreams of living a happier life, of having a family and seeing their children experience better days. But poverty, always present, seems to say those dreams will never come true.

"That's how I've lived most of my life. When I was a teenager I started working as a maid in families' houses. They didn't pay me a salary, but they gave me food, a bed to sleep in, and some presents. It was hard to have to work and go to school at the same time. I was always tired. It seemed like I would never learn all those things, and school became an uninteresting place.

I was only 16 years old when I got pregnant with my first child, Marcos Vinicius. My son's father seemed to be the person who would give me a family as I always dreamed.

However, soon my dream became a nightmare, and the handsome man I fell in love with became a violent man and betrayed me countless times. My future seemed darker and darker. I had to drop my studies because of my pregnancy, and the idea of going back to school became shameful and frustrating.

Overcoming a bruised heart

“A short time later, I met my current husband. My heart was still bruised and I didn't want to go wrong again, but he became more and more willing to take care not only of me but of my son.

"When I got pregnant again, I felt that we were actually building a new family, but my baby died from complications of childbirth because the local hospital didn't have enough staff to support us. Even though my baby Cristiano died without seeing the light of the world, in my heart he is alive. The only photo we have on our wall is a picture of his coffin. It's a sad picture, but I don't want anyone to forget that he existed.

"After Cristiano went to live only in my heart, I had two other children: Marcos Alexandre and Eloiza. My husband worked hard to bring food home every day, while I spent all day doing domestic services.

"Despite the difficult days, my children's smiles brought me peace. Sometimes I watched them from afar thinking about what they would be in the future. I wondered if they would grow up and have the same life as me.

"Marcos Vinicius was 7 years old when we first heard about the Compassion project and he was found a child sponsor.

When he began to participate in the project, a new flame of hope ignited in my heart. There he had access to learn things that I could hardly give him.

Shortly thereafter my second son, Marcos Alexandre, also received the opportunity to go to the project, and my heart was once again filled with joy. It was good to see them excited to go to church on the days of project activities.

“I always eagerly expect to hear the stories they have to tell me. I am very grateful for everything the project volunteers do for my children. I wish I had a project like that in my community when I was a child, but I didn't. On days when they have no activities, they say that time seems not to pass. When we are children, the hours seem to be an eternity.

smiling boy in Brazil


Brazilian boy playing bubbles

"Unfortunately, time passed quickly for me. Suddenly, I was 24 years old and pregnant with my fifth child. Despite the time, my life seemed to be the same. We lived in the same clay house with two bedrooms, a makeshift bathroom in the yard, and a roof full of holes that wet us on rainy days. I never stopped wishing for my new baby, but I wondered what kind of future I could give him. My dreams had already been lost with the obstacles of life, and all I thought about was whether my children would be like me.”

Daring to dream again

“It was at this moment that the Igreja Solidária (Solidarity Church) project invited me to participate in the Survival programme. I was happy, because at that moment I felt that I would also be taken care of.

"At the Survival programme meetings, I learned things I had never heard before. I had already taken care of three children, but I still used to make numerous mistakes. We also had income-generating workshops, through which we learned how to do innumerable handworks, such as crochet, carpets and decorative boxes. Since I left school so young, I had always depended on my husband, but when I learned to do the crafts they taught us at the project, I began to think that I could also make my own money.

"I was ashamed and afraid to dream again. I was afraid that all my dreams were just illusions and that I would get frustrated again. In the first meetings with the other mothers I hardly ever spoke, because I was afraid to say something wrong or silly. Still, the project volunteers always encouraged us to dream about the future and to believe in ourselves. Their encouragement made me feel special, because they trusted that I was capable. Slowly the fear gave place to the will, and the shame gave place to the courage.

"At first, I decided to use all the knowledge I had learned in the workshops, and I started making and selling carpets in the community. I didn't make that much money, but I started to have my own money and feel that I really could go further. Even after giving birth to my son, Kauan, volunteers from the project continued coming to my house in the early years of my son's life. During these visits, they always encouraged me to keep fighting and to return to school.

Going back to the classroom

"I was very scared to go back to school. I wasn't a good student when I was younger, and now everything would be even more difficult. How could I go back to school after all that time? This idea frightened me so much, and I thought I couldn't do it. Over time, volunteers showed me that education is the best way to build a better life for myself and my children. They taught me that fighting for our dreams is also a way to allow our children to dream their dreams one day.

family in Brazil reading the Bible

My husband, who also had a childhood like mine, was one of my greatest supporters. The government has a literacy programme for young adults, and when Kauan had grown enough, he even enrolled me in school. Unfortunately, he had to work hard to support us, but he did everything he could so I would not give up.

Being back at school again scared me a lot, but I met people with stories similar to mine - people who were trying to give a new direction to their lives.

In the Survival meetings, I learnt how to improve my communication with people, to express my thoughts and to defend what I believe. These meetings were essential for me to feel confident in front of my teachers and classmates. I discovered in myself skills and gifts that I never knew I had.

"Every day I walked about an hour and a half to go to school, but over time that sacrifice became easier. With the money I got from selling the rugs, I bought a used bicycle, which, despite being old, helped me get to classes faster. One day, while I went to school, someone stole my bicycle. Months later I got another bike from my brother, but someone stole it too. It seemed that life wanted me to go on foot every day. Maybe it wanted to teach me to keep on the path one step at a time.

“Going back to school made me look at the world differently. I wish I understood that when I was a teenager, but now I know that education is the safest way to make our dreams come true. I bring school books home whenever I can. Our house has no toys, only those my children earn at the Compassion project, but we have many books. I know toys will get old or break, but what they learn will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I know I can't go back in time, but I want to build a new path for myself and help my children build their own paths.”

We’re not alone

“I know the project's main objective is to support children, but everything they do impacts the lives of all of us - parents, siblings, grandfather and grandmothers. When a child is sponsored, it's not just his or her story that can change. There are other poor children born long ago, like me, who also have the opportunity to dream. I won't stop dreaming.

"Every time my children receive letters from their sponsors, I feel like we're not alone. There is someone on the other side of the world who cares for them, prays for them and encourages them to trust in God - just as there are people on the other side of the ocean who helped finance the Survival programme. Even though I may never know their names or faces, they have changed my life completely. I feel that's God's way of showing that He loves us, even when everything seems so difficult.

“Now, I'm a 28-year-old woman. Every day when I walk to school, I know there is still a long way to go. I know the days of struggle will still be there. Even so, I walk steadfastly believing that the same God who brought the Compassion project to our home will guide us for better days.”

Sponsor a child in Brazil

WORDS : Sara Navarro, Emily Johnstone

PHOTOS : Sara Navarro



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