AIDS Home Gives Brazilian Children Hope

A Dream Come True for Father Julio Lancellotti

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SAO PAULO, NOV. 28, 2001 ( A home for AIDS children is thriving in Brazil.

The place is full of dolls and toys, and is a dream come true for Father Julio Lancellotti, coordinator of Children´s Pastoral Care in Sao Paulo.

The priest was inspired to found such a home in the 1980s when he was working in the FEBEM children´s prison in Tatuape and saw children confined to locked rooms because they were seropositive.

Today, the «Casa Vida» (House of Life) has emerged in the Mooca neighborhood, in which 110 seropositive children have lived since 1991. Another house is in Agua Rasa.

The priest welcomes the children as if they were his family. The Mooca facility is home to 15 boys, ages 7 to 16. The Agua Rasa facility is home to 20 little ones, ages 6 months to 6 years.

Some are sent from the children´s prison. Many are orphaned or abandoned, or were born in prison, the offspring of incarcerated seropositive mothers. They arrive at Casa Vida, sent by judicial authorities, and find a place where they are constantly cared for by teachers, nurses and psychologists.

Casa Vida is a real home, not a care center or school.

«The children are treated in the hospital,» Father Lancellotti said, «although we have qualified staff to care for them, and they go to the training college, because our objective is to integrate them into society.»

Father Lancellotti began by sensitizing the faithful of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, in Mooca, to the problems of the AIDS children.

The priest spoke about them in his homilies and took the faithful to visit the imprisoned children. Many began to actively support the project, to create an adequate shelter for otherwise-hopeless children.

The work of volunteers, along with financial aid from the International Assistance for Development launched by the Youth Missionary Service of Turin, Italy, enabled the first Casa Vida to open in Agua Rasa.

The premises in Mooca were established five years ago, with the help of the municipality and the FEBEM prison. The social center of Our Lady of Bomparto bears the project´s economic cost.

The problem of teaching the children how to live with their sickness is great. Some return from school crying, because they have been rejected by their peers. Others ask if they can fall in love.

«We try to assuage their doubts; we help them to become aware of their situation and we are always honest, even though sometimes it is difficult,» said a staffer who preferred to give only her first name, Rosanna. «This is why there is a psychologist to help them live with the virus and, at the same time, with other people.»

There are also stories with a happy ending in Casa Vida. Many children overcome their condition spontaneously, and others have been adopted or rejoin their original families.

Some have had to go to live in other institutions, and 10 children have died from the virus. Three children were adopted by staff members.

«My daughter also lived here,» said Rosanna. «I told her, ´You have been granted two miracles — you have been cured and you have found a family.´»

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