By Hannah Elliott
Published December 21, 2006
VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (ABP) — A small American Baptist ministry has hit the big time. On Dec. 22, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams will feature Hope Unlimited on its weekly “Making a Difference” segment.
Co-founded by David Swoap and father-son team Jack and Philip Smith in 1991, Hope Unlimited is an International Ministries agency within the American Baptist Churches USA. Led by Philip Smith and his wife, Corenne, it helps Brazilian street children by providing shelter, food, education and vocational training. In 2006, Hope Unlimited received the Kanitz Award as one of Brazil’s top 50 charities for the decade.
Steve Bostian, the U.S. director for the Los Alamitos, Calif.-based ministry, said the lives of street children in Brazil are beyond dire. And with current media coverage of the conflict in the Middle East, the plight of Brazil’s 7 to 10 million street children has been completely overlooked, he said.
That’s why the Smiths decided to approach the network about featuring the ministry. Broadcasters and camera crews traveled to Brazil in November to film Smith and the operation for several days.
“The situation with street kids in Brazil has not gotten a lot of attention,” Bostian said. “Only 18 percent of these kids are biological orphans. The rest are social orphans. They think they would be better off on their own away from their home. Most die from violence in the streets.”
Today, 20 million children live at or below the poverty level in Brazil. Many of the children on the streets choose to live there instead of facing abuse from family members. Others live on the streets simply because they have been abandoned by their parents.
Many of the children suffer from poor health and malnutrition. Because of rape and forced child prostitution, they are often exposed to HIV/AIDS. According to the Brazilian Center for Children and Adolescents, Brazil has more than 800,000 child prostitutes. Drugs also run rampant among the children, who sniff glue to escape reality.
With a population of 160 million, Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country. It is rich in natural resources, with large business sectors in bio-technology and manufacturing, but its poverty levels reach almost 25 percent.
The problem with street children became so bad in the late 1980s that Brazil had “large-scale, deliberate, systematic killing of street children by death squads who enjoyed a high degree of impunity for their actions,” according to the Hope Unlimited website. “Street execution" was once listed by Amnesty International as the third leading cause of death for Brazilian children.
Hope Unlimited aims to alleviate those seemingly hopeless conditions. The program in Campinas, which houses 180 boys and 65 girls, emphasizes vocational training. Eighty-five boys also live at Hope Mountain in Vitoria, another location for the program.
Most boys join between the ages of 12 and 15, while girls — who fall prey to prostitution at a young age — join as early as 8 years old. The children are often referred to Hope Unlimited by social workers or simply appear at the boarding house, looking for refuge.
Once there, children receive love and attention from 80 staff members, including teachers, pastors, psychologists, social workers, music teachers and cooks, who work with local doctors to help them. The campus even has a lake, football field, 10 horses, and a farm. Many of the students take music lessons and go on outings and camping trips.
Children who graduate from the program are guaranteed jobs when they leave at 18 years old. They also receive household furnishings and tools for the trade they learned.
One graduate, now a third-year law student with a paying internship at a prestigious law firm, was especially excited to be featured by the NBC crew, Smith wrote in a letter about the visit. The student so impressed firm representatives that they did not even realize he had formerly lived on the streets, he said.
Funds for the operation initially came from several large international donations, although for the past two years, almost two-thirds of operational and capital financing has come from Brazilian sources. The goal is eventually to be completely sustained by Brazilian sources, according to http://www.hopeunlimited.org.
Right now, the most important thing is to use the NBC segment to get the word out about “unsung heroes” giving their lives to serve the kids, Bostian said.
“The volume of homeless children [is huge],” he said. “We hope the show will raise a lot of awareness.”