E—-, A— and H——– are three street children “living” in a favela high up on a hillside outside of Rio de Janeiro. They were 9 or 10 years old when I met them during a research trip to Brazil in 2008. I spoke to them through a translator for more than an hour. None of them believe their parents are alive, and only one has any memory of parents—A—, who remembers his mother singing to him at night when he was a very young child. Members of the community fed and cared for them until they were 6 or 7 years old, at which point they were told they were on their own.
Today they survive by begging, stealing and scavenging food from restaurants and dumpsters. They live together in a makeshift hovel abandoned by older boys who moved to a better shack a few years before. They took me to their home: several pieces of plywood had been nailed together with a sloping piece of sheet metal secured as a roof. Their living space is approximately 8’ by 10’: they had several old blankets and slept on the hard-packed ground. Other poverty-stricken children and adults live nearby: they have formed a small community that looks out and cares for each other. My overall impression was that most dogs in the US live better than these boys. Sadly, and ironically, their favela is in the hills behind the iconic statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer. Cristo Redentor stands on the 2,300-foot peak Corcovado and overlooks the metropolitan city of Rio. It is an iconic symbol of Christianity and Brazil and has been named one of the seven wonders of the modern world. You can see the back of the statue a few steps from where the boys live. Standing there with these boys, it is as if Jesus, or at least his church, has turned his back on these and other orphans and vulnerable children around the world.