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Roots of Brazil: Humanitarian Group 'Projeto Axé' Helping Kids Rise Above Poverty With Art

The children of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, sound just like any others. Happy, laughing, playing. But many of them face a difficult reality. Drugs and violence are daily concerns for many of these young children.

With few opportunities for education, they learn from the streets. Some of them even live in the streets. There is one organization dedicated to helping to empower these kids to change their own lives, “Projeto Axe”. Founded in 1990, as a nongovernmental organization, Projeto Axe focuses on protecting the rights of children, and providing opportunities through arts education. It gives kids between the ages of eight and 21 a new beginning by taking them back to their Afro-Brazilian roots. Projeto Axe teaches music, dance and capoeira as part of their efforts to give kids productive activities to keep them off the streets. The students are empowered by their own culture and identity. The Utah State University crew had the opportunity to meet with one of Projeto Axe’s success stories. Luciana Santos is a former street kid, who now works as the director of Projeto Axe’s downtown unit.

“I was on the street for seven years, between the ages of seven and fourteen. I first encountered Projeto Axe when I was fourteen. It was a special moment because I was on the streets and every day I wondered why I was there. I did not accept my situation. When I went to school, my classmates and friends went home after school, returning to their family, while I thought of my life on the street. So, I knew that the street was not the place for me to stay. I came to Projeto Axe in 1997, I knew this was the place I was seeking.I got into street educators, which is one of the ways to join Projeto Axe.”


While in Salvador, the Utah State University crew had the honor of working with the very program that recruited Luciana from the streets. This Projeto Axe street education unit consists of a bus, equipped with books, art supplies and plenty of musical instruments that travels into tough spots in Salvador to give street kids a taste of what the program has to offer. Depending on the day, Projeto Axe offers workshops in music, art, dance, and capoeira, a traditional Afro-Brazilian martial art developed by slaves in colonial Brazil. Everyone is welcome to join in on the Projeto Axe’s street activities.


“Thanks to the street education program, I was brought into the dance class, later I applied for Axe Fashion. In that program, I learned a lot about my life, my story, and my class identity, my race, and my culture. It was then that I started redefining my life, and from there the life of my family, my home, my friends, and the people on the streets that I walked. I was redefining them by trying to identify the stories of these people.”


Projeto Axe does not only strive to give kids a safe place to fill their time. They strive to change how children see their lives, now and in the future.  


“In Projeto Axe, I started to realize there were many stories about our lives, and the life that I considered normal someone else would say was made up. Someone invented that story for me, said that story was mine, my family’s and my peoples. I learned that it was not. And from that discovery, I built a different life. A life that brings me dignity. Dignity to my life’s story and to my family."


Reporting done by USU Professor of Global Communication, Jason Gilmore, from the Department of Languages, Philosophy and Communication Studies with help from students Brieann Charlesworth, Mckayle Law and Elizabeth Thomas.”

Support for "Roots of Brazil" on Utah Public Radio is made possible by the USU Office of Global Engagement.