Murilo Tadeu Moreira Silva
Our car drove along the wide boulevards of the central business district through the city’s industrial sector until we reached the edge of Belo Horizonte. The vistas changed from skyscrapers, to industrial plants, and then to barren hills dotted with squatters’ homes. In the distance, the huge red and white striped roof of the Curumim facility appeared at the edge of the favela. The cheerful, open tent-like structure seemed appealing against the stark and shabby favela homes. The Curumim grounds included a fenced in swimming pool, a garden, and a makeshift soccer field. First, my daughter and I visited the director’s modest office. Then we toured the kitchen and met the cooks, two motherly women sweating as they stirred huge steaming vats of food. In the classroom, we found a young teacher leading about 25 attentive youngsters uniformed in their Curumim shirts. In the recreational area, a group of about eight boys presented a capoeira demonstration. Two preteen girls, both named Maria, watched with us. When we departed, the one wearing hot pink lipstick embraced me and gave me a kiss on both cheeks.
—R. Mickelson, field notes, July 14, 1994
Programa Curumim targets young children living in difficult situations who are apt to beattracted into the streets. Curumim—the name comes from the Tupi Indian word kuru’ mi, which means “child”—serves children age 6 to 12. It tries to ensure children the right to be children and to experience this important phase in their development as individuals in a manner that is playful, but at the same time educational. The program is sponsored by the government of the state of Minas Gerais, which operates Curumim through its Secretaria de Esportes, Lazer e Turismo (Department of Sports, Recreation, and Tourism). Conceived in the early 1990s, it was designed to deal with the abandoned children and adolescents on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, the state capital. In practice, Curumim operates as an intervention that prevents young adolescents from entering the life of the streets. Most are not abandoned by their families; they are merely suffering from the stress of poverty (Secretaria de Esportes 1991).
Currently, there are 140 centers around the urban areas of the state of Minas Gerais. Twenty-seven are in Belo Horizonte, and 113 in other towns and cities. Each center serves between 150 and 180 children at one time, and since its inception, an estimated 22,000 children have participated in the program. About 30 percent of the centers have the program’s distinctive red-and-white-striped tentlike edifice; the other 70 percent are housed in more traditional buildings.