Nestled in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the indigenous region of Iaureatê, Brazil may be remote -- but the afflictions of civilization certainly are not: alcohol smuggling, drug trafficking and substance abuse regularly threaten traditional values and destroy the family structure. Here, Father Roberto Cappelletti dedicates himself to providing hope, and the chance for a better future, to the “little ones” he serves.
So many of these girls and boys have been orphaned or abandoned -- the innocent victims of social degradation, who face uncertain and often frightening futures.
“Alcoholism is a great problem,” says Fr. Roberto, who heads the Salesian presence and projects in Iaureatê. “There is a very clear law that forbids bringing any type of spirits into the indigenous area, but regretfully, the law makes little difference. A lot of alcohol is illegally smuggled in, to tragic effect: drunk fathers drowning in the river, young girls physically abused, parents driving their own children to run away.”
At St. Michael the Archangel Parish -- which serves 40 communities and 16 different ethnic groups -- Fr. Roberto and his fellow missionaries and volunteers, welcome these children with open arms: offering hot meals, a safe place to play, basic medical care, and when possible, a place to sleep at night. Because the need for shelter is so great, missionaries have begun building a family home that will ultimately accommodate as many as 50 girls and boys.
Fr. Roberto’s efforts to raise money to purchase something for the children to sleep in resonated all the way to Turin, Italy, where 24 participants in a local half marathon recently solicited donations as part of their “50 Hammocks for 50 Little Indios” campaign. Because of their successful efforts, the children will soon rest peacefully, cradled in the comfort of these new hammocks.
“Even with simple means, we can counteract the erosion of dignity that so many indigenous people suffer,” says Fr. Roberto. “And it starts with protecting the little ones -- giving them, above all, the assurance that their life is worth living.”
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