The Renato Russo Playroom is one of four of its kind in Brasilia, Brazil, operated in cooperation with the Brazilian Ministries of Education and Health with the assistance of NGO Amigos da Vida (Friends of Life). Located in public hospitals throughout the city, these playrooms give the residents of Paediatric Wards a break from the monotony and adversities of hospital life.
And judging from the smiles of the children and their parents, their efforts are paying off.
Colourful, comfortable and staffed by volunteers, students and professionals, these playrooms are discrimination-free zones where children can be themselves and specifically, where HIV-positive children are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to play like any other child.
The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) joined with Amigos da Vida to provide funding to operate a series of educational activities in these play areas, intended to break-down the preconceptions and fear that affect thousands of HIV-positive children in Brazil.
“Very often we see that actually it is the families of the HIV-positive children that stop their kids from interacting with others, fearing recrimination or discrimination from other parents. By educating the kids, we are able to indirectly influence the real culprits of discrimination and fear—their parents—and with greater confidence on the part of parents comes increased school attendance rates and community involvement for HIV-positive children and adolescents.” - Angelo Della Croce, Project Manager of Amigos da Vida
The CFLI-funded activities feature a special, educational comic book from Brazilian cultural icon Mauricio de Sousa that takes the “Group of Monica” (Turma da Mônica) a famous children’s cartoon, and depicts two new characters: Igor and Vitoria, HIV positive children. The characters pass on instructive messages of inclusion.
Marcos Vinícium Magalhães, Art Education Specialist and volunteer at the Renato Russo Playroom, emphasizes inclusion and acceptance through art sessions and educational activities, reminding the children that friendship matters more than where someone comes from
“Attending activities like this, which have benefited from Canadian funding, is one of the best parts of my job. It is humbling to see the amazing work being done by NGOs like Amigos da Vida and the professionals and volunteers staffing these play areas. They make such a difference in ensuring the basic human rights of children and adolescents who have already been through so much. These kids deserve to be able to play, learn and dream just like other children and this project is making that possible.” - Ambra Dickie, Second Secretary - Political at the Embassy of Canada to Brazil
The lessons, though, don’t stop at education on HIV/AIDS. The program has also worked to shift gender, racial and socio-economic stereotypes in favour of increased awareness of basic human rights and responsible democratic participation.
Special education teacher Sandra Lima tries to instil in the children of the PaediatricWard many key notions, from respect for the environment to combating gender discrimination to career and educational advice for her students. She smiles with pride as she speaks of past pupils, many of whom were struggling in school due to their long hospital stays, including one who just left for college last year.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the volunteers manage to sooth these tiny patients and their frazzled and exhausted parents with kindness, comfort and an unconditional welcome, making their small play area an oasis in a sea of uncertainty.
“My daughter would put her hospital bed in front of the door of this playroom, if she could, to wait for Sandra to arrive in the morning. This space has been a blessing for her. When we first started coming she wouldn’t even speak, now she has decided she what she wants to be when she grows up and the psychologist is amazed with her progress!” – The mother of an 11 year old gastric disease patient.
Canada is proud to support the simple gestures of tolerance, acceptance and inclusion that can make a world of difference for all the children in these hospital wards, broadening their horizons and giving them hope to dream of a better future.