“The 13 Houses project is much more than the provision of a house; it is giving someone a space in which they can feel like a child of God, a human being and a citizen who has the right to a place to call home.”

M.F.S, 57 years old, widow, 3rd grade education. She lives in the city of Almirante Tamandaré in the state of Paraná, and works collecting recyclable materials and clearing land.

M. began to be supported by the Daughters of Charity in the Tereza Araújo Community two years ago, first being provided with food and someone to listen to her. During our first visit to her home we quickly realized she needed greater help, as the house wasn’t in a condition fit for anyone to live there.

M. lived in a small 5x7m² shack in an informal settlement built over marshland. She constructed the house herself, using an existing brick wall that was on the land and pieces of ply and salvaged wood, with old tiles for the roof. It was a very fragile structure and had to be tied to a tree, as whenever it rained heavily the small river that runs by the house overflowed, flooding everything and risking it being swept away by the current. A wet and humid place, it was always surrounded by animals, frogs, mice and insects. It didn’t have a bathroom and wasn’t connected to the sewage system; nor did it have running water, so M got her water from a source of the river nearby. The house was illegally hooked up to to the mains, as is commonplace in informal settlements like this in Brazil.

Inside there was one cupboard where she kept clothes and another where she kept food, a chair, a television, a radio, a sofa and a raised wooden bedframe with a mattress, that she built out of a fear of the flooding. To cook she used a makeshift oven made from an old paint can and piled up bricks, and she had a metal grill and bucket outside for washing dishes.

Economically, M. seeks diverse means of survival, but we regularly see that people are exploiting her. She tells us that she is often called to do weeding work and at the end of the day she only receives a plate of food or a small part of the agreed amount. She is registered for the Bolsa Família (a family benefits programme) and from this receives the monthly amount of R$ 99 (just under $20 USD). She often comes to us asking for food and money, and she also receives some help from people close to her.

Faced with these circumstances, we can say that her living conditions were sub-human. M is a simple and charismatic person who has suffered a lot. She has a lot of willpower and is keen to improve her life, but has little education and is always in need of guidance and interventions. We have also advised her several times on her rights, and even intervened in a lawsuit that she opened against the state government requesting the bereavement pension scheme after the death of her husband. Her dream was to secure decent housing because before her husband’s death she had a comfortable home. It was after that tragedy that she lost everything, and found herself in this desperate situation.

With the help of many people, families and organizations we have now been able to build a dignified house for M. In partnership with the Daughters of Charity, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Rio Branco do Sul, Saint Vincent de Paul Parish and Our Lady of Mercy Parish, the Vincentian Marian Youth and others, we have given M. the keys to her new home. The 13 Houses project is much more than the provision of a house; it is giving someone a space in which they can feel like a child of God, a human being and a citizen who has the right to a place to call home.

M. is very grateful for all that she has received. She now continues her life with more joy, hope and confidence that she is not alone, in the knowledge that there are good people in the world capable of sharing and loving others.

Sister Cleonice Regina Claudino, DC.

Curitiba/Paraná – Brazil