Church helps move families out of Brazilian dump

Published July 1, 1998


A human life can be worth no more than the price of a pair of brand name running shoes in the tough world of Brazil’s street kids.

Rev. Simea de Sousa Meldrum is all too familiar with that world.

“I’ve seen people killed because someone wanted their shoes or clothes,” the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of North Eastern Brazil said in an interview. “It’s scary.”

Previously rector of the Good Samaritan Parish and priest-in-charge of the Church in the Garbage Dump in Olinda, Mrs. Meldrum co-ordinates planning and social action throughout the diocese. Because of her work with the poor, the young, the elderly, the homeless and women, she has been called the Anglican Mother Teresa with a keen social conscience.

Mrs. Meldrum told the Streams of Living Justice forum that globalization, marketing pressures and the influence of television all contribute to a mindset that puts such a low value on human life.

“Everybody needs to be well dressed to be respected,” she said.

The same circumstances force people to live in appalling conditions that cry out for change. And church partnerships, she said, can help promote change.

Mrs. Meldrum told synod delegates of how the church helped provide housing for 120 families away from the dump with its polluted drinking water and unhealthy conditions. The families still work in the dump but their housing conditions have improved.

“We were involved in pressure, in being present at meetings, helping to organize, using the media,” she said. “Things can happen. If we speak out, God helps us make a loud noise.”

Forum table groups discussed issues including the Multilateral Agreement on Investments and Jubilee 2000, a campaign to petition world leaders to cancel the unpayable debts of the world’s most impoverished nations.

On the question of debt cancellation, one table group said that while there was support for the campaign, there was also a feeling it would be a hard sell in some parishes because of attitudes, fear, the enormity of the issue and the amount of money involved.

Human rights principles in the Canadian church, sustainable communities, moral economic decisions, the ethical investment of money and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People were also focus questions.

Synod approved a motion calling on the Canadian government to undertake full public hearings which involve discussions with those most affected, when it negotiates any trade and investment agreement such as the MAI.

The motion also called for assurances that any new agreements conform to existing international agreements to which Canada is a signatory, such as conventions on civil, economic, cultural, environmental and social rights.

Bishop Barry Jenks, who proposed the motion, said the church’s chief concerns were with negotiations that excluded the public, as well as the impact on the environment and on society’s vulnerable people, especially the elderly, the young and aboriginal peoples.

Another motion proposed by Bishop Jenks and approved by synod called on the church to endorse the Canadian Ecumenical Report, Toward Sustainable Community: Five Years Since the Earth Summit. It called on the church to review its own policies.


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