Stigma in Brazil

In Brazil there is huge stigma for those who come from the ‘interior’ to live in a big city. It is much worse for those who migrate from anywhere in the north-east to the south-east. Local prejudice and ignorance creates a barrier to social mobility and success for many capable people. To survive, people keep their origins quiet, trying to blend in to their new surroundings.

For me this has led to many interesting conversations, having moved recently from the north-east to Rio de Janeiro.

Recife, north-east Brazil. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund
Recife, north-east Brazil. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

Jason and Roosevelt, both from the north-east, are final year students at theological seminary in Rio de Janeiro. When they arrived they grew weary of comments referring to the north-east region as an educationally backward, infertile, semi-arid region of the country. People looked surprised when Roosevelt spoke about his job as a maths teacher and described the lush trees back home. In fact, north-east Brazil has a diversity of peoples, climates and dialects. There are many universities in north-eastern cities, much fertile land, and many people from the south-east have moved north-east to enjoy a good lifestyle.

Roosevelt became president of the students’ union in the seminary although many grumbled at a north-easterner being a leader when there were so many capable students from Rio (Cariocas). Yet as Jason points out, even a recent governor of Rio de Janeiro state was, in fact, a north-easterner, from Piauí.

I asked them what they felt the churches here could do to reduce prejudice and stigma. Quoting Philippians 2:3, Roosevelt began by suggesting that those receiving people arriving from elsewhere should “be humble towards others, always considering others better than [themselves]”, and that this should be the attitude not just towards north-easterners, but to any migrants arriving from outside. Jason spoke of “respecting diverse forms of intellect” and gave the example of his grandfather, who had no formal education, yet was highly intellectual, being able to calculate planting times, seed quantities and harvest yields, in a community which had a deep understanding of plant-based medicines.  

I imagine that this is an issue for migrant communities throughout the world. Perhaps, in other contexts where migrants are stigmatised through prejudice and ignorance, Jason and Roosevelt’s advice will be helpful.

Mark Greenwood
Rio de Janeiro


River blindness

I received Footsteps 83 three days ago and thank you very much for it.

I would like to ask you for information about medicines to fight river blindness. The article in Footsteps 83 mentioned ivermectin, a reliable medicine against river blindness. My question is whether this medicine can be taken as a preventive measure, all the more so because we live in an environment which is infested by the carriers of this disease.

Jean-Charles Mbala-Mampouma

Editor’s note: Ivermectin is widely distributed in endemic countries to reduce the spread of river blindness and to help to prevent it.

If you are living in an endemic zone – ie an area where river blindness is normally present – it is usually possible to get supplies of ivermectin through the onchocerciasis (river blindness) control programme in your country. Ask your local health department for more information. Taking a dose of ivermectin every year or every two years helps to prevent it. If any symptoms develop, which may affect the skin as well as the eyes, you need to see a doctor who is well informed about the illness.

Helping street children accused of witchcraft

Christian Development Centre is an NGO in DR Congo. After the various wars, many children are malnourished, excluded from school, declared to be sorcerers, and finally find themselves on the street and in the marketplaces. They are between death and life. They die like goats in the streets with no one seeing. The CDC therefore plans to assist them by providing meals. We would welcome advice and assistance from Footsteps readers in this project.

Pierre Lufuluabo
Coordinator – Christian Development Centre
BP 2227 Mbujimayi
Kasai Oriental
Democratic Republic of Congo

Editor’s note: Calling a child a sorcerer or a witch is against the law in DR Congo. Tearfund partners have been trained in child protection, which includes preventing this abuse and supporting children who may have been stigmatised by it. Footsteps welcomes letters and articles from readers who have experience of how this abuse has been challenged and how children have been reintegrated into their families.