From the street to the market

From the risk of delinquency to the risk of business. Young people at an expanding purse business in Brazil

From the street to the market

by Paolo Lòriga

 from the "Economy of Communion - A New Culture" n.33 – editorial insert attached to Città Nuova n.13/14 - 2011 - July 2011

110408_Dalla_Strada__inaug_07It was not located in the busiest part of the expo of 650 participants of the Economy of Communion Assembly, but it was the most crowded stand during the breaks. They sell purses, jackets, and women's clothing. Everyone can see the success they had in attracting visitors (which also seem to be customers).

The lines of artisan products are a mix of quality and modern design, with nice original touches, just as is the origin of the raw materials used: tarps from trucks that are no longer in use, scraps of leather and jeans that would not be used in any other way, used out of ecological consciousness. But these are not the only typical characteristic of this young business.

No, it is not the main characteristic, because the employees and underage youth or just over 18 have also come from difficult situations.

The brand of the factory, "Dalla strada" (From the Street), therefore perfectly explains the entrepreneurial initiative that established its headquarters at the Spartaco Business Park, just five kilometers from Mariapolis Ginetta, last April. A small two-story building hosts the well-cared windows of products and working spaces. Knowing the origins, it seems more like a gamble than true productions, but seeing the dozens of youth working and listening to the reasons that motivate them, one can understand the bounty of productive results that guarantee the future of the business.

A good part of the young workers come from a neighborhood where poverty is evident - Jardin Margarida, in Vargem Grande Paulista, 30 kilometers south of Sao Paulo.

"Ours is more than a business. We help one another, because we work as a group, but also because there is a family atmosphere. We begin each day with the Word of Life from the Gospel, and this helps us overcome difficulties." Divani is an eighteen year old who joined the business after a year of professional training and an internship in the North-East, in Recife, at the main headquarters of the business in Ginetta Business Park, linked to the principles of the Economy of Communion.

Behind the two businesses is the meekness and determination of Joao Bosco Lima de Santana, an entrepreneur who went to Italy to specialize in purse production and then returned to his country to start a profitable business. But something greater within him was his true motivation. When he was young, he me the spirituality of the Focolare and was touched by Chiara Lubich's proposal to "die for your own people."

Life then took him down different paths. But when he meets Father Renato Chiera and his home for youth, which welcomes teenagers and children from the street, it confirmed his wish to “give my abilities and my life to give young people a profession.”

One result of this commitment lies in front of us. Miguel is twenty years old and is now the head of the laboratory at the Spartacus Business Park. His life was driven on normal tracks until his father, a restaurant owner, left the family, bringing with him all they had. It was a downhill that led them to the slum. "I was 11 - he says - and I wondered how I could help mom and my two brothers. The distribution of drugs seemed to be the solution." In six years he became the main distributor in the slum. He sells but does not use them. He moves with caution, but gets caught, arrested and imprisoned. “Only I survived out of 26 of my friends. The others were all destroyed by drugs."

He meets Father Renato and then Joao Bosco. He finds a job and rediscovers life: "I have a lot to give. I feel the responsibility to help those who went through the same experience I did in the past. I want to give all of myself so that this project can go ahead. I want to do it on behalf of my friends who were not able to make it."

Joao Bosco looks at him with intense expression. There is something to be understood. "Educating at work is a form of development and we have seen that love put into practice for a greater cause is capable of renewing things, ideas and people who come from the street." This occurs on a daily basis which Joao Bosco can say with credibility that "here in the company the young people are in the first place, not the training, not the production, while still focusing on the quality." It's a paradox to entrepreneurial logic, but one which brings fruit. A group from the Ivory Coast has asked to learn about this productive activity in order to begin something similar there, and through the Youth for United World, with the help of the Equiverso cooperative, these purses are now exported to Italy. Small multi-nationals of the EoC are growing.

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