Shade and Fresh Water encourages youth in Brazil to make healthy choices

Having a place to hang out with good friends in a supportive community that provides fun and creative activities is a universal best practice for helping youth find meaning and purpose. Global Ministries’ Global Health unit takes a keen interest in partnering with organizations that help children and youth maintain good health and avoid the temptations that unhealthy environments foster.

Celebrations at a Shade and Freshwater Christmas party in São Gabriel, Brazil. Photo: Mark Greathouse

The Shade and Fresh Water project, a ministry of the Methodist Church in Brazil, has provided afterschool programming for children for more than 18 years. Across the country through churches in over 50 locations, Shade and Fresh Water reaches 2570 children and youth. “Our mission is to form a large Methodist network of support and protection for children and adolescents,” the mission asserts. Brazilian Methodists support this mission ministry with more than 2000 volunteers from their congregations and the communities they serve.

Partnering with Global Health in 2019-2020, Shade and Fresh Water plans to improve a project in the Northeast Region (Methodist Conference) of Brazil and another in Rio de Janeiro, increasing the consistency and quality of the programming and contributing to positive development opportunities for youth in Brazil’s poorest communities.

A place to grow in positive ways

Shade and Fresh Water grew out of the work of the Methodist Community Center in São Gabriel, an older ministry based in Belo Horizonte. Gordon and Teca Greathouse served there for much of their 40-year missionary careers and continue serving in the city of Belo Horizonte in retirement. Before the church expanded the afterschool and children’s education work to create Shade and Fresh Water in 2000, the São Gabriel Methodist Community Center served as a place where children with nowhere to play but the streets could come in for acceptance and affection, engage in sports, arts and music and experience a place of Christian welcome and care. 

Youth from Shade and Freshwater programs in Brazil perform at the 2016 General Assembly of the Methodist Church in Brazil. Photo: Courtesy Shade and Fresh Water

Over the past two years, Shade and Fresh Water has scaled up its services to include programs for youth ages 15-18. This new level of programming, in partnership with Global Health, provides healthy alternatives for older teens as they try to discern who they are and what they want to do with their lives. 

Vinicius Guimarães dos Santos started attending Shade and Fresh Water when he was 6 years old. His mother searched for a place that could keep her son safe after school while she and his father were still at work. 

Music was what attracted dos Santos to the afterschool program. But once he was there, he says he learned discipline and self-esteem too. His talent and hard work eventually earned him the opportunity to represent Shade and Fresh Water with a group of children that traveled to the U.S. to perform at the Virginia Annual Conference. Dos Santos had never traveled in an airplane and was overwhelmed by the way he was received.

Until recently, children aged out of Shade and Fresh Water when they turned 15, but dos Santos stayed on as a volunteer. Eventually, he received a scholarship to study the flute. Today at age 23, he works as an educator with the program and is involved in the expansion to reach older teens. “Kids need programs that support them and help them discover who they are,” says dos Santos. “Without that, many get lost and people lead them in the wrong way.”

Dos Santos feels that music teaches youth confidence and pride in themselves. “Kids often get involved in drugs because it makes them think they are the big guys on their street. But music is a better alternative. They can feel pride without the drugs.”

Becoming citizens in the greater community

Taynara (left), who attends the Shade and Fresh Water project in Liberdade, is thinking about becoming a doctor and a police office to keep her community safe and healthy. Photo: Mark Greathouse

Shade and Fresh Water builds curriculum around seven different areas of programming for children and youth. The core curriculum includes Christian education, support for academic education, and sports and recreational activities. These three activities are required in all official Shade and Fresh Water projects. Complementary curriculum includes citizenship; culture, music and the arts; holistic health; and technology, mainly computer literacy and access. 

While many church-related programs cover the same bases, citizenship is a unique Brazilian choice for children’s programming. Shade and Fresh Water describes citizenship as: “the ability to assert our rights and values and act in accordance with our duties. Working with citizenship in Shade and Fresh Water is directed toward the development of values and attitudes that promote creative ability and critical thinking.” The goal is to help children and adolescents in their quest to improve their living conditions, learn to make decisions, build healthy relationships and recognize themselves as active subjects and participants within their social group. Basically, this curriculum is teaching children to work together to change the world.

For 9-year-old Thaynara, this kind of curriculum has encouraged her to set high goals: “My plan to make our country better is to not throw trash in the streets and to make sure people are safe. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor and a police officer. My friends tell me I am crazy, but I would be fulfilling my dreams, right? The project has taught me songs, parties, and the word of God. Before I didn’t really like to go to church, but now I go almost every day.”

Saving the planet, keeping people safe and healthy, songs, parties, the word of God and a strong faith community – Shade and Fresh Water for Thaynara. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Christie R. House is the senior writer/editor for Global Ministries.

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