The Salvation Army in Brazil is continuing to provide assistance after heavy rains led to devastating floods in the north-east of the country in mid-June. In the state of Pernambuco, where The Salvation Army has been working for more than 25 years, 54 towns were affected by the disaster, which left 83,000 people homeless.
One month on, more than 38,000 children and young people still cannot return to school. Around 50 schools remain closed because of the flood, either because of damage or because they have become shelters for 9,000 people who cannot return to their homes.
Kerolainy Inácio now lives in the place that was once her school. 'For me it is sad,' she says. 'I wish each person could have their own home and we wouldn't all have to live in a school.' Cícera Maria Ferreira, a mother living in the same school, adds: 'We feel lost, as if the ground has been taken from under our feet. We have no hope in what will happen to us, how we will rebuild all that we lost. It is difficult to start all over again.'
The Salvation Army is engaged in relief work in the state capital, Recife, and also in Palmares, 118 kilometres from the capital and one of the worst-affected towns. An emergency relief team made up of members of Salvation Army corps (churches), supplemented by volunteers from the community, helps with the collection and organisation of donated goods, putting together parcels of cleaning materials and distributing them from house to house, bringing comfort and encouragement to the families affected by the disaster.
'All our corps in the north-east are involved in some way in helping those who have lost everything,' says Major Maruilson de Souza, Divisional Commander of the North East Division of The Salvation Army's Brazil Territory. The major says it has been gratifying to see local Salvationists involved on many different fronts.
He adds: 'The Salvation Army is doing all it can – or should I say more than it is able!' Resources are scarce with new challenges, and needs to be met, appearing all the time.
Members of The Salvation Army in Boqueirão, in the neighbouring state of Paraíba, recently took to the streets, knocking on doors and asking for donations. They collected goods and set up a solidarity campaign in aid of the flood victims.
Captain Rosseli Fernandes, corps officer (minister) in Boqueirão, says: 'We collected a large quantity of food and clothes and took them to a collection point in Campina Grande from where they were sent to Pernambuco. Since then the donations haven't stopped coming in. We are already preparing new parcels to be sent out.'
Major Maruilson says that the items most needed are fuel, food for volunteers, clothing that will provide protection against diseases (boots, masks, gloves), drinking water, personal hygiene kits, bedsheets and towels. He estimates that the cost to obtain and distribute these items is R$30,000 (US$17,500) a month.
The Salvation Army is working with the Ecumenical Committee for Aid of the Flood Victims of Pernambuco. Together they have already distributed more than 200 tons of food, 2,000 mattresses and many hygiene and cleaning kits.
Major Maruilson says this is the worst disaster ever recorded in this region. He concludes: 'The north-east is considered by the federal government to be the poorest region of Brazil. The floods have impoverished the local people even more.'