“I Don’t Want to Live off Leftovers Anymore!”
Photo above: Tatiane Soares and Mariana Guerra, Brazil, 2020
On International Women’s Day 2022, ATD Fourth World celebrates women around the world who struggle to escape the trap of persistent poverty.
“If you plant a seed, hope is reborn. That seed means that you will have one more flower in your life.”
Tatiane Soares, Fourth World activist, was on the phone with Mariana Guerra, a Volunteer Corps member with ATD Fourth World Brazil. They were talking about plants, something they are both interested in.
Using her cell phone camera, Tatiane gave Mariana a virtual tour of her garden in the Hill of Angels favela. Located in Petrópolis’s (City located about sixty kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, in southeastern Brazil. In 2020, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics estimates its population at 306,678 inhabitants). Caxambu neighborhood, Tatiane’s yard is full of trees, plants and flowers as well as a large vegetable garden. Tatiane also showed Mariana her spectacular view of the mountains in the state of Rio de Janeiro. This is how she expresses her attachment to the land, which is at the heart of her involvement with ATD Fourth World.
- For Tatiane, being concerned about others is just what you do, not a form of charity. And her awareness of her surroundings extends to both people and the environment. This kind of awareness is critical to addressing the many crises that are causing devastation in Brazil and throughout the world.
Tatiane knows why Mariana should add sunflower seeds to the COVID 19 prevention kits for people living on the Hill of Angels. As she sees it, seeds embody the hugs people cannot give each other during the pandemic.
“When I think about my life, I just want to do everything I can,” says Tatiane. “Right now, people need to hear and see other people showing them affection. So I thought of sunflowers. It’s a beautiful flower with yellow petals. We’re putting these sunflower seeds in the kits so people can plant them. If you plant a seed, hope is reborn. That seed means you will have one more flower in your life. Everything we plant – really everything we do in life – is hope. And with hope, everything can work out.”
“From my own experience, I can understand…”
At the age of 16, Tatiane was pregnant and living on the street. There were any number of hardships and she was often hungry. However, Tatiane doesn’t say much about what she suffered back then. Instead, she prefers to talk about some of the interactions that helped her. There were people who inspired her not to give up but to keep trying to make a better life for herself. For example, Tatiane remembers a man who sold roast chickens.
- “I had the money to buy a roast chicken,” she explains. “But the salesman said, ‘No, take this chicken. I am giving it to you.’ I sat in the middle of the street eating the chicken and said to myself, ‘This happened to me so that I would value things in my life more.’ I learned to appreciate what God has given me.”
In Brazil, as in many other countries, there is a stigma to living on the streets. People look down on those who are homeless or simply poor. Having been there, Tatiane insists that it’s important to understand extreme poverty from the point of view of people who have experienced it. “From my own experience,” she states, “I can understand why people are on the street. I know why they are in need and why they act the way they do. We need to rely more on what the poor themselves know.”
“I don’t want to live off leftovers anymore!”
With the help of her mother-in-law, Tatiane managed to get off the streets. She moved to Caxambu at a time when, she says, “There were no sewers. There was nothing.” It was up to her to figure out how her family could manage to live. She cut up old clothes to make diapers for her children. On market days, she and her neighbors collected unsold goods. Little by little, working side by side brought these women closer to each other. They learned how to stick together and survive.
Remembering violence she and other women in the neighborhood suffered, Tatiane says,
- “I’m not ashamed of my life or of what I’ve been through. I protected my children from hunger as best I could. But at a certain point, I said to myself, ‘I’ve had enough! I don’t want to live off leftovers anymore!’”
Tatiane met ATD Fourth World and became friends with people in the movement. Learning more about ATD she was reminded of her own struggles.
- “There are some things you never forget!” she explains. “Meeting people [in ATD] has had a huge impact on my life. Mariana brought someone from the ATD Fourth World [International Leadership Team] to my home. That really made an impression on me. Suddenly I was somebody! They were very different from me, but we shared the same commitment to ending poverty. We all saw that we had something important in common.”
Women in need are warriors
From then on, Tatiane’s involvement took on a new momentum. She began to organize meetings with women from the Hill of Angels. Meeting together like that isn’t the norm for women in poverty. However, through these gatherings, each woman began to see that there were others with similar life experiences. Seeing how far they had come and all they had been through, the women from the Hill of Angels gained pride in themselves.
Through all their conversations, something clicked for Tatiane and the other women. As Tatiane explains,
“Here, there are a lot of women who are full of imagination and wisdom, and they want to overcome poverty too. In fact, I prefer women in need because they are warriors. They want to rise above their extreme poverty.
- “As women, we have to unite to end violence. But when the women here on the Hill of Angels suffer violence, we don’t feel love for ourselves anymore. We can’t even bear to look at ourselves in the mirror! If you give a mirror to a woman from the favela, she usually looks away. Why can’t she she see herself as beautiful? Because we don’t feel loved. We just feel like we are garbage.
“But all of that is behind me now. I don’t want that life anymore. I want a better life, I want to be a different woman.”
“We have to do everything in our power to make a difference”
Tatiana’s concern for others isn’t just about people. “Others” for her are all living things and the entire planet. Talking about the pandemic, Tatiana doesn’t describe the situation as apocalyptic. “They say that the pandemic has killed a lot of people, that this is the end of the world,” she says. “But that’s not true at all! If we think about it, we can learn a lesson from all this.
- “It is urgent for all of us to get together and think about what really matters and what the world needs. Wherever we are, what can we do to make things better? There isn’t enough love and peace in today’s world. People are losing everything and dying. Animals and nature are sacrificed for nothing. The world is crying out, it needs help!
“But we will always have the love in our hearts. This pandemic is killing people, but it will not defeat us. We have to do everything in our power to make a difference.”