Poverty in Brazil & Paraguay

Text and Photographs by Mark Flowers ©

For 5 weeks from August to September, 1997 Mark Flowers worked with a Christian charity called World Horizons also known in Latin America as Misao Horizontes  in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Asunción in Paraguay, experiencing and photographing social conditions amongst the poor.


Brazil is a country of 165 million speaking Portuguese. There is a huge divide between rich and poor. São Paulo (population 16 million spread over 30,000 km²) is the second most populated city in the world after Mexico city and Rio de Janeiro (population 10 million) is also high in the top ten. Both are undergoing population explosions. Forced mass evictions from the rural areas and general poverty have meant more and more people have moved into the cities adding to the problems. ⅓ of the populations of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo live in shanty slums called favelas where squalor and deprivation have encouraged violence, drug abuse and child prostitution.

There is a dire need for social action but a small number of dedicated Christians are starting to make a difference, although sadly with little support. I  worked in the Casa Pedrino, a halfway house for orphans run by Pedrino da Silva for Misao Horizontes.  Many of the children there had been sexually abused and most had tried “crack” before arriving there. One brother and sister had a mother who was a prostitute and a father who was a crack addict, and so the authorities took the children away and were planning to put them in an FEBEM, a state juvenile remand centre, until Pedrino persuaded them to let him look after them. A number of children had fled domestic violence to live on the streets where they ran the risk of being shot by the police or other street people. Because there are so many street children who often resort to theft and violence to support drug addictions, the police have organized death squads to murder them, and more recently unofficial vigilante groups called justiceiros have been formed which also murder children.

Only a very small number of people work for the halfway houses of Misao Horizontes and they have been extremely over stretched with the work load involved in helping children from from such extreme backgrounds, yet those who were fortunate to have been taken into the Christian houses, have been helped to become really well adjusted and they have even been able to have good quality education at local schools. Since the work was started in 1990 over 40 children have been successfully placed with Christian homes.

These houses have made a huge difference in the lives of the children in their care, yet they received very little financial support even from the churches as there is a faulty attitude prevalent that the Brazilians running the halfway houses are not missionaries as they are working in their own country. Funding therefore has gone to overseas missionaries.

Sadly, the authorities in Brazil have decided to stop charitable organizations from working with very young children. The houses in Sao Paulo have been told by the local authorities in Santo Andre, Sao Paulo that they can only work with those in their “teens.” Unfortunately, the accommodation in the houses run by Misao Horizontes are unsuitable for this age range, and they only have two female workers. Consequently, it was with regret that the street children’s ministry had to be closed down in 2001. The pre-teen age is such an impressionable age where patterns for life become established and yet this group will now be severely affected by yet another badly thought out policy from a Government that cares little for the poorest members of its society.

I visited a huge favela or shantytown on the outskirts of São Paulo that Pedrino had contact with. ⅓ of the population of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo live in favelas where lack of adequate housing has meant that have been forced to illegally build their own from whatever materials they can obtain. Living conditions are appalling and dysentery and cholera are common. Several of the children in the halfway houses run by Misão Horizontes came from this environment and the squalor and deprivation have encouraged violence and drug abuse and prostitution. To see such a favela stretching out before one about half the size of a city like Coventry is heartbreaking, and knowing that there are many other favelas like it around the city is disturbing and it is shocking that so few are doing anything to counteract the problem.

Fires are common in the poor conditions of the favelas and I actually witnessed a major fire, which destroyed 60 homes in Favela California, a couple of miles from where I was staying in São Paulo. The local newspaper said that faulty wiring caused it. In the favelas, electricity is obtained by illegally tapping into the mains systems.

I also met up with Misão CENA (Comunidade Evangélica Nova Aurora), a Christian missionary group established by Pastor Paolo Capelletti that is reaching out to street people in the notorious Luz zone of São Paulo. The locals know this area as “cracolandia” or “crack land” as this is where most people congregate to get their fixes. Together with Capeletti, I walked at dusk around the streets of this area where I was shown the conditions his mission is trying to tackle. It is an area inhabited by people openly smoking “crack,” prostitutes and transvestites. It is also an area where to be identified as a foreigner would invite violence as many of the addicts carry knives or guns, so photography had to be kept to a minimum.


Paraguay is South America’s “empty quarter,” a country of 5 million. Until recently it was a notorious police state. Only about 5% of the population are evangelical Christians with the rest following various Guarani Indian religions and a strange mixture of Spiritualism and pseudo-Catholicism. Many of the population are descended from Guarani Indians and the language is a mixture of Spanish and Guarani.

In Asunción Misão Horizontes is involved in food distribution for the street children there. As in Brazil, there is a great divide between rich and poor, and many live in shanty towns although they are much smaller due to the much lower population.


World Horizons/ Misão Horizontes

℅ Fred & Sandy Nuckley,

Centre for the Nations,

North Dock,



SA15 2LF.

E-mail: effaness@aol.com


Misão CENA

R.Aurora, 72 - 10º - Ap. 103/104

CEP 01209-000 - São Paulo – SP


Tel: Brazil 220-4471 

Tel/fax:  Brazil 220-3412

Further Reading

An excellent book highlighting the plight of the Brazilian street children is “Brazil: War on Children” by Gilberto Dimenstein pub. Latin America Bureau ISBN 0 906156 62 9, ISBN  0853458383.

São Paulo from the Banespar Building

An inner city favela

Below: several views of Brazilian favelas

Crack addicts in the Luz region of São Paulo

This disused building in  the Luz region of São Paulo is home to about 2000 street people.

Report in “Journal do Brasil”of fire in Favela California

Street children taken in by Casa Pedrino

Asunción, Paraguay

Shanty town in Asunción, Paraguay

Paraguayan street child