According to data from the 2019 Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), Brazil has approximately 11 million people who can neither read nor write. This is equivalent to 6.6 percent of the population over 15 years of age. To reduce this statistic, the Adventist Development and Relief Resources Agency (ADRA) has created a literacy project within a therapeutic community, which offers specialized and multidisciplinary treatment to drug addicts.
Pró-Vida, the name of the initiative, aims to offer treatment in a humanized and participatory way to people who use chemical substances and are 18 years old or older. It has existed for 20 years and operates in the rural region of Cachoeirinha, 120 kilometers from Salvador.
According to the project’s coordinator, Leonardo Carvalho, the classes are held inside the therapeutic unit, which has a structure prepared so that each inmate can learn and develop. The classes are held in the institution’s library. There, the inmates have access to a variety of literature, primers, and calligraphy activities.
The course reinforces the concept of social reinsertion and health promotion and started from the need for professionals who deal with alcohol and other drug users to promote a more welcoming attitude. “The first step comes through conversation, with the purpose of identifying literacy. The next step is to identify reading and writing. We identify the school process of each inmate, and then we set off to work and develop the students in their knowledge levels,” Carvalho explains.
The coordinator also explains that some of the beneficiaries are learning the alphabet, while others are in the stage of developing writing and reading skills. “It is exciting to see the growth and happiness in the eyes of each beneficiary when they begin to identify the letters and are able to write their names for the first time,” he says.
Sara Alves is a volunteer teacher for the project and describes that her greatest satisfaction as an educator is to give the students the opportunity to rediscover themselves. “To rediscover their dignity—to give back the hope of a life temporarily fragmented because of substance abuse—give them back their confidence, self-esteem, and the certainty that it is never too late to learn to overcome challenges,” she assures. “The result of the therapeutic community’s efforts is evident in the lives of the patients, who show the desire to overcome difficulties and start over.”
Alves recalls that in August, one of the students was identified as illiterate, and this generated discomfort in his heart, as well as low self-esteem. “By being inserted in the literacy classes, he was able to realize his dream of having the opportunity to sign his first identity card. He went from the ‘illiterate’ status to having his own name signed on his document,” she says with a sense of accomplishment.
Carvalho emphasizes that the function of Pró-Vida is to promote opportunities and a new perspective on life for all those who are welcomed, as well as their families, who place in this project the hope for happy times. “I realize the relevance that this work has in the personal and collective development of each beneficiary in our unit. It is gratifying to see the rescue of dignity and values in the life of each student when they can see themselves as citizens and express, through writing, the joy for the opportunity found in this project,” he stresses.
Besides literacy, one of the differentials of the initiative is the use of nature’s eight remedies: healthy eating, regular intake of water, fresh air, exposure to sunlight, physical exercise, rest, temperance, and trust in God.