This paper describes the history and work of Casa de Passagem in Recife, Bazil.
Beginning in 1986, while working on a voluntary basis-and before the official opening
of institution-the founders of Casa de Passagem developed a working model of alternative
socialization for adolescence, gender and citizenship. The model was based on the
production of peer educators.
Rethinking Approaches and Objectives/ 1989
Casa de Passagem was launched in 1989 as a pioneer initiative, aimed at defending
under-privileged children and adolescents in Brazil. It was original because it dedicated
attention to the problems of adolescent girls on the streets of the big Brazilian
metropolises. The explosion of the number of "street children" created a wave of
indignation in society. The responding progressive initiatives focused almost exclusively
on adolescents of the male sex.
Casa de Passagem's pioneer project in Recife raised the specific problem of the girls,
demanding that their special needs be addressed. The problems of these adolescent girls,
until this point, had not been raised to general society, even by the womens
movement, which concentrated its efforts on the problems of adult women.
Casa de Passagem brings into the forefront the problem of child prostitution and the
sexual abuse of children and adolescents. Casa de Passagem begins its intervention by
moving beyond simple denouncements to the creation of specific teaching methods aimed at
seeking solutions to the problems of adolescent girls, subjected to the impoverishment
that victimizes over half the Brazilian population.
The founding of Casa de Passagem coincided with an acute aggravation of Brazils
social, economic and political problems, produced by the implementation of the neo-liberal
economic model that has accelerated the impoverishment of the subordinate classes and
continues to disorganize the daily life of the individual, the family and the community.
The aggravation of the social crisis raised levels of unemployment and underemployment,
obliging familiespressured by the immediate needs of survivalto depend, more
and more, upon their children's contribution to the household income. This phenomenon has
driven children and adolescents to live in the streets, on the edge of society, in the
grip of hunger and crime because their families cannot afford to sustain them.
Under the current circumstances of the Brazilian social crisis, street children are the
fruit of the social reproduction of capitalism that these "families" have to
cope with. Instead of "disintegrated families," it is therefore probably more
relevant to speak of "non-integration of families" (Casa de Passagem research,
Since family units are not formed because of destitution, the children, the
"sons" and "daughters," no longer have "parents" who answer
for them. The bid for the streets, to seek survival in this public sphere, may represent
leaving the violence to which they are subjected in their origins and searching for
"family" reference groups, or people who will shelter or help them in some way
(Casa de Passagem research, 1992).
As a result of her gender and class status, the adolescent girl bears a double burden
in her destitute and disorganized daily life. Her individual experience of deprivation,
compounded by the urgency of basic needs required for survival. Under these circumstances
there is no place left for the development of self-esteem.
Destitution is a material condition in the daily lives of these children, reinforcing
emotional disturbances, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and breaking down the
boundaries between the "public" and the "private." The streets
represent a controlling and demanding territory where the adolescent girl becomes, in the
words of Lebfreve, totally vulnerable, exposed, and controlled. The street thus becomes a
site where desperate, impoverished adolescent girls attempt to escape from this misery and
the magic appeal of material goods displayed in the media.
The Individual Dimension 1986-1989
"Language is the essence of the experience, and daily life the arena available to
the adolescent girl, as the chief protagonist of her individuality." (Vasconcelos
Casa de Passagem monitors the trajectory of the girls from their homes to the street,
using input from a survey taken in 1990/1991,"Street Girls of Recife: Dimension,
Trajectory and Survival." The institutional structuring of Casa de Passagem was based
on the work on the street, an approach based, in turn, on the girl-mentor relationship and
dialogue with the "street girl."
In the streets, in contact with the girls, the mentors respect the basic conceptual
framework that the girl herself has struggled to establish and that enables her to
survive. They work with the girls, rethinking and rebuilding a new life to be assumed, if
desired, on the basis of these foundations: linking in with the girls family,
cultural, social, and racial background, her temperament and expectations, and her
condition as an adolescent girl ("meninas de rua: foi porque o amor valeu...."
Vasconcelos, Mendonca, Castelli, 1988).
Moving Towards the Collective Dimension 1990
The work begins by training the "street-girl" to become a peer educator. She
is then prepared to do educational work among peer adolescents on the street. Once
trained, she informs her peer group about the Casa de Passagem. Thus, the street girl
inaugurates the informative practice of Casa de Passagem. The first thing that peer
educators learn and teach is to exercise basic citizenship. By talking to the "street
girls," Casa de Passagem identifies misinformation about health and sexuality,
prejudices, and emotional disturbances, all of which are linked to economic destitution
which has lead young women to the streets. Most of these girls are involved with drugs and
in prostitution directly or indirectly. The Casa de Passagem thus formulates and applies
its knowledge with respect to the following issues: "conflicts, ignorance about the
body, undesired pregnancy, the loss of virginity, rapes, beatings, exploitation, forms of
violence which occur in domestic groups, with poverty as a backdrop, a shared arena."
In March 1990, the preventive program Adolescentes Multiplicadoras de Informacoes,
or Peer Educators Program, was set up with the aim of preventing running away or expulsion
of adolescent girls from their homes and communities into downtown Recife.
Peer Educator's Program
The axis of the educative process is the dynamics between life on the streets and life
in the Casa de Passagem. The Peer Educator's Program, or peer educator program, represents
the collective social and political approach that Casa de Passagem has adopted. Aimed at
prevention, it is based on a model of community socialization involving the training of
adolescent girls as conveyers of information on health, sexuality, gender and citizenship.
These young people are prepared for working in their communities, transmitting information
and, thus preparing the path for the desired personal transformations.
The preventive Peer Educator's Program aims to train and empower adolescent girls as
peer educators in outlying communities to transmit information on health, sexuality,
gender and citizenship. As such, they take on responsibility for the spread of information
among their peer groups. Adolescent girls with adequate training, can train other
adolescents, like themselves, to become peer educators themselves. Street educators
establish the first contact with the girls. They treat them with attention, courtesy, and
affection. They open new and positive prospects of human relationships for these children.
As a collective approach, the Peer Educator's Program project represents the social
aspiration Casa de Passagem has worked towards since the outset. Addressing prevention, it
conceives a model for community socialization aiming to prepare adolescent girls as
conveyers of information on health, sexuality, gender and citizenship. The main goals
cultivated in this program are:
· The physical space of Casa de Passagem is introduced as a
place for meetings
· Alert and receptive educators are always present
· Girls are encouraged to speak and verbalize experiences and
· Girls are taught that the care of the body is a sign of
· The presence of a group as a forum for communication
supports the girls, but it also "limits."
In Casa de Passagem the adolescents can spend several hours a day, take a shower, wash
their clothes, rest and eat. They can talk to educators, as well as psychologists,
teachers, sociologists, anthropologists, nurses, lawyers, social workers and doctors. They
begin to get to know each other and build up trust. The habits acquired in the streets are
gradually changed. As they learn to cultivate self-esteem and independence, the young peer
educators are trained to understand their political responsibilities and the need and
purpose of this social work in their communities. They take responsibility for
communicating information, aware of the fact that they are progressively producing social
Casa de Passagem believes, through its daily "praxis," that with this input,
the adolescent girl becomes capable of modifying patterns, mentalities, attitudes and
behavior in her daily dealings with conflicts and violence, which are generated by the
destitution in which she lives. The Casa also believes that the girls can develop the
necessary capacity and abilities to pass on information to other girls in similar
situations in the community, either through spontaneous action, or in the form of an
action proposal put together by group organization. This is the central idea behind the
Peer Educator's Program; the process of communicating information to a peer group, during
daily social exchanges, as a permanent prevention strategy to be incorporated within the
experiences and practice of adolescent girls in low-income groups.
Both proposalsof spontaneous and of organized actionare based on three
1) The integration of these adolescents into the community.
2) The defense of the rights of adolescent girls.
3) The responsibility for the community through organized actions.
These principles maintain the characteristics of a social and political approach, which
addresses the individual and social defense of adolescent girls.
Educators and Program Staff
The work of Casa de Passagem is sustained by an operative group of educators and
program staff ideologically and professionally committed to the aims of the project. More
important, however, in the current success of the programs, is the high level of personal
and collective effort on the part of the educators in sustaining a daily routine that
greatly differs from that of other NGOs working with adolescents. Two aspects of the Casa
de Passagem methods stand out in the light of the experience as a whole:
- The persistence in giving adolescent girls a voice to speak their desires, emotions and
- The caring to listen, respect and learn from what the girls say.
On these principles, the social, psychological and educative reintegration process is
developed to perfection and without impediments, with the knowledge that an entire world
of emotions, sentiments and ideas is being changed in the girls psyche. Behavior is
changed. Life is changed.
What is perceived in the discussions with the team and with the educators individually
is an impressive sense of responsibility, discipline and commitment to Casa de Passagem
programs. This is clearly reflected in the educators relationships with the girls,
in which the key is respect and esteem.
Casa de Passagem works with the poorest sector of the population in the town. Its first
aim is to remove the greatest number of girls from this situation of absolute poverty and
attempt to prevent community girls from ending up on the streets. In this sense, Casa de
Passagem manages to revive in the young women the desire for social integration, and equip
and strengthen them for their struggle for citizens rights, for employment, for
dignity in their work, for public health and education services, and for the existence of
a real democracy. It combats poverty in that it gives back to the poor the reason for
struggling for a better, more dignified society. It is precisely in the stimulation of
this struggle that the Casa de Passagem has had an important and promising presence in the
destitute communities of Recife and Olinda.
Without full comprehension of the educative process at all stages, the advances,
setbacks, challenges and limits, the girls could not construct an identity; that only
emerges with the perception of the reality in which they survive and the freedom of being,
each one of them, a unique individual. Cut off, denied an individual identity, springing
from their venture in the world, pretending to be what their mothers desired of them, even
when new values are conveyed through the media, that strongly influences the lives of poor
women and their sons and daughters, the girls cannot go far, if they repeat the
"destiny of their predecessors," mothers and grandmothers.
Ana Vasconcelos, from Recife, Brazil, was born in 1944. She is a
lawyer by profession. From 1986 to 1988 she worked on the street with girls. In 1988, she
founded "SOS Child" for girls and boys who work on the street. In 1989 she
founded Casa de Passagem, a SOS for girls only. Casa de Passagem is a non-governmental
institution that works with street girls by giving them medical and psychological support.
The organization also works with the mothers of the girls in the street trying to help
mothers and daughters become friends, enabling the girls to leave the streets and go back
to their domestic homes. Ana Vasconcelos has published the following books: Menina de
Rua: Foi Porque o Amor Valeu, SOS Meninas, and Education through Life: A
Pedagogical Experience in Brazil.