Bamber Bridge mum visits vulnerable children living in world's seventh highest city for homicide
A Bamber Bridge mum has described her emotional trip to Brazil to visit vulnerable children living in one of the world's most dangerous cities.
Michele Carter, senior pastor at Valley Church, took a team of church members to the impoverished and drug-riddled city of Fortaleza for eight days last month.
They visited the youths they sponsor through international charity Compassion, which puts Brazilian children - at risk of falling into drugs, gangs or prostitution - into projects run by local churches and designed to help them escape poverty.
Michele said: "The trip was amazing. At our first project the sponsor director was hugging me so tightly and crying. She said our visit proves to all the children their sponsors really do exist and there really is someone on the other side of the world who cares about them."
She added: "We arrived to a room full of children waving red, white and blue balloons and cheering and singing for us. We all just cried because we were so proud. The children and their families are blown away that we'd invest in their country. We spend £25 a month on them. It's nothing. They're the ones on the ground in a dangerous city.
"There is a huge need in the local area but as soon as we walked into the project halls it was like entering a different world, and they'd made such an effort for us."
The group visited several projects where the children demonstrated some of the activities they are involved in, such as music and martial arts.
Jenny Street, a Valley Church member, was so impressed by a karate demonstration she decided to sponsor 12-year-old Jose on behalf of her martial arts loving husband.
"To see the impact of the projects on the children's lives was incredible," said Jenny, who also sponsors Lays (15), Ingrid (7) and Tiago (6).
"I sent my hubby a video of Jose doing martial arts and he showed all his friends from his karate group and they thought it was so cool."
She added: "The youngsters get to do activities that we take for granted at home and it costs us about two cups of coffee a week. When you see that difference up close and personal, it's worth every penny."
The group were also shown the youngster's inspiring community work, such as award-winning artwork designed to bring peace in a neighbourhood filled with graffiti inciting violence.
They then visited the children's classrooms and family homes.
"We were told that in Brazil about 50% of university places are reserved for people who cannot afford to pay, if they stay in school and pass each academic year," Michele said.
"But the problem is, many pupils don't stay in school long enough because they have to go to work to support their families."
That is the case for 17-year-old Wesley, one of the four children Michele and her husband Ed currently sponsor. Wesley, whom the Bamber Bridge mum-of-three visited during her trip, has been forced to leave behind his education to work as a roofer and support his family.
Even in those circumstances Compassion is still trying to help Wesley and his family, according to Michele.
"Wesley's family doesn't have a lot. His mum left them, his sister was shot and his brother's in prison for gang-related stuff. He now lives with his dad, step-mum and step-brother. The project pastor said his heart breaks for them," she said.
The South Ribble group also visited the local countryside, where the charity works with pregnant girls and young mums as young as 12. Project workers visits them to talk about topics like breast-feeding and immunisation.
But despite living in chaos, Michele said the children have been inspired by the projects to dream big and aspire to become well-respected professionals like lawyers, doctors and firemen.
"They wouldn't normally have these opportunities and a life in gangs is all they once knew. Compassion gives them a chance to see a different type of life for themselves and go down a different path and step into a hope-filled future.
"The charity tries to make sure every child in their projects are known, loved, protected and able to safely and healthily grow into their potential.
"These children are just the same as mines and yours; they were just born in a different place. The teachers, staff and project workers at Compassion really are transforming lives.
"I think it's a privilege to take part in their lives. Helping them to see their sponsors are real and want to help them was just amazing."
For more information and to get involved visit www.compassionuk.org or pop along to a service at Valley Church.