“Any mother in this village will give you one of their children because they know that you are going to provide them with a better life”
Vila Isabel was co-founded in 2006 by a group of fellow Brazilians who had moved to Vancouver, Canada, from various parts of Brazil. It all started with a trip taken by Kelly Santiago to Minas Gerais, a large state in the South Eastern region of Brazil. She returned to visit her family in Citrolândia, a village on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, which is the capital city of Minas Gerais. The Canadian culture of volunteerism was an important factor in inspiring the founding of this Society. Kelly and the other Brazilians were influenced by the spirit of so many volunteers lending their time and energy to various different causes in the Vancouver area.
Besides visiting her family, when in Citrolândia, Kelly was also intending to explore options to adopt a child. There, she was introduced to Alexandre Rodrigues (Alex), who was already serving local families in need and was soon going to register his charity NUBEM (Núcleo Beneficente Mirandinha).
Kelly and Alex at Nubem
For over 40 years, Alex led a unit of volunteer social workers, doctors and local retailers to gather and distribute food, clothing, medicine and other basic supplies to the community. This was all accomplished with very little financial resources. Alex’s dream was to build a community kitchen where he and his team could prepare and deliver meals to the locals that couldn’t afford to have a stove. His goal was also to ensure that the population of malnourished children could be permanently assisted. Alex took Kelly on a tour of the local area and introduced her to a family of nine. He said:
“Kelly, it’s very nice that you are thinking of adopting a child and giving this child love, comfort and education. Any mother in this village will give you one of their children because they know that you are going to provide them with a better life. But do you think that by taking one child you are going to make a real difference?
If you take one out of the nine, the eight that are left behind will continue to be neglected and suffer violence and hunger. This mother will be happy that at least one could have a better life. Now imagine, when this child goes back to see his family. He won’t even relate to them anymore…
Our responsibility as citizens is to help improve the conditions of the whole family so they can all have a better life by staying together. Why not help ten lives at once instead of just one?“
It was after witnessing the reality of the family’s living conditions and hearing Alex’s wise words, that Kelly’s eyes were truly opened! When she came back to Vancouver, she told the story to other Brazilian ex-pats, among them the Social Worker Izabel Brioschi. Together they started Vila Isabel, a not-for-profit Society in British Columbia that would be focused on raising funds to support Alex’s social programs, as well as to become a valuable channel to bring Brazilians and Canadians together in honour of humanitarian causes.