“Keeping two hours of childhood a day for the children.” That is the idea behind the daily meetings for children at the small fraternity of the Taizé brothers at Alagoinhas in the North East of Brazil. These hours are a simple as the name indicates: “brincadiera”, which means “play and joy”. The rules are equally simple: it is forbidden to fight and to throw stones, but there are no barriers for fantasy! At the entrance to the play ground, the harshness of daily life and sometimes even veritable arms (scissors and knives) are exchanged for balls, used tyres, soapy bubbles, and, according to the season, fresh mangoes. It is striking to see how the same idea that is used in the meetings in Taizé seems to function here too: each young person is given a share of responsibility he or she can carry. Thus, Anna Lila (11 years old) is the referee for the ball games area, and Moses (13 years) does the same thing in the case of minor disputes among his friends.
No “brincadeira” resembles another: the number and the faces of the guests big and small change daily. Some come regularly; others appear for a few days then disappear in the same way. In all, some 500 children come from time to time. Each brings not only their ideas for games, but their own personal story too.
The parents are for the most part out of work. There is no support from any social service or insurance. Some of the older children are sent to earn the family’s keep on the streets of the city centre. Others accompany the beggars. Some have great difficulty in going to school, or even do not go at all. Only a minority are living with their father. Older brothers and sisters, often the father and even the mother go off to Sao Paolo to look for possibilities of survival. The abandoned children stay on with their grandmothers and some of them never see their mothers again…
So these afternoon meetings are also a place where the children can talk about their little or big problems at home or on the street: a shack that has collapsed, fathers who have been violent, mothers who are short of money or who drink… There is, for example Thassian, ten years old, who comes every afternoon with her three brothers and sisters: Thais, Marcelo and Jackson. Forgotten and abandoned by their alcoholic mother, they have been living for months at the home of Dona Bela (the “beautiful one”) who herself is mother to twelve children.
In the neighbourhood alcohol and violence are part of daily life, the children are growing up with the “law of the street”, according to which only the strongest will survive. During the brincadeira, this means for us volunteers being particularly attentive to situations that could get out of hand… but also to be quite simply “there”, to listen, and to have the time to find the piece that is missing in the puzzle, and the place in the right queue, where the children gather at the end of the afternoon according to the names of the streets they come from.
Playing makes you hungry. So for the homeward journey there are two oranges and a banana… and the certainty that tomorrow the door of “play and joy” will open again.