Projeto Axé may be the most influential and significant program for street kids in Latin America. Founded in 1990, it has become a model for both government and non-governmental responses to youth homelessness in Brasil and abroad. Axés philosophical basis, the pedagogy of desire, based on the theories of Lacan, Piaget, and Vigotsky, is both well-founded and pragmatic.
Since Axé is a huge program, with some 200 staff, it is broken into a number of administrative sections. Several concern direct client services, others concern training. These sub-programs include:
- Street education. As with most organizations, street kids first come in contact with Axé through the street educators. Games and listening build trust with the educators, who then attempt to inspire desires in the children -- desires to drum, or do capoeira, or art, or dance, or any of the other Axé programs. As children become interested in any of these activities, educators introduce them to the programs (listed below), and the child choses were s/he would like to be affiliated. Before joining any program, kids must have a place to live, so street educators work to reconcile children with their families, or to find extended family where children can live, or to arrange for a place in a shelter (the last choice).
- Paper and Art Workshop (OPA). This program, Axés oldest, uses paper and other trash as art media, teaching creativity, expression, conservation, and human relations. The programs director insists on affection as a way to combat the anomie of the street; children always receive intent attention, so they need not scream, fight, or act out. Work includes balloons and papier maché, drawing, collages, oragami, and many other forms of paper art. The site is decorated with the childrens art, from paintings on the wall to the chairs and tables, covered with papier maché (very attractive). Conversation and reflection are very important, and carefully directed by staff; manners and politesse are stressed, and integration of new children into the group depends largely on these social skills. Children do several simple yoga exercises to relax and reduce stress. As with all Axé programs, children eat lunch at the site.
- Pelourinho Unit. This unit, in the historical center of Salvador, contains several programs. Here, children work with plastic arts, fashion, printing, capoeira, puppets, drumming, and guitar. Staff integrate the children into the life of the city: before an art project, they go to museums and galleries to research ideas and look through books to learn about the history of art. Imagination is the most important part of the work, especially for younger children. Staff speak of rescuing identity: this means stress on local culture and family, but also on the childs name and image. A project on sea turtles and environmentalism has just begun, and the children are enthusiastic.
- The House of Song is temporarily located in Pelourinho. It teaches drumming, guitar, voice, and capoeira. In addition to the self expression children find in music, this can be professional education: the program has a contract with several of the important musical groups of the city, including Olodum, to bring clients in as interns. Children also learn composition and music theory (valuable in the city that gives birth to more pop music stars than any other). This program is much in demand, and has one of the largest client bases: 170 children.
- Dance. This program may be Axés most exciting. The program includes a ballet school and a corps de ballet that has toured the world (and is, in my uneducated opinion, extraordinary). Many members of the ballet company (more exactly a modern company, in the tradition of Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey) have gone on to professional careers. Axé has shown that dance has many positive effects on street kids: the mirrors build personal identity, African dances strengthen cultural pride, the athleticism improves health, posture improves self-esteem (this shocked me more than anything else: the straight, proud, elegant backs), and the discipline is good for almost everything. Because dance is so specialized, the staff is split into dance teachers and educators -- the educators work on school, family relations, psychology, etc.
- Charter school. In the last year, Axé has opened a high school within the Salvador public school system. Money comes from the city, expertise and the model come from Axé. Axé hopes that this school, based on the Pedagogy of Desire, will become a model for public schools around the country.
- Canteiros do desejo (Flowergardens of desire). On the grounds of the school, Axé runs a day care center for at-risk children.
- Training unit. All Axé educators begin as street educators so that they can understand the children and the program from the bottom up. Later, like the children, they may chose to affiliate themselves with a specific program. So that all educators understand and can implement the intellectually demanding Axé model, the Training center provides constant education for all staff. The program also trains staff of other non-profits, is a resource for researchers, and trains local police in how to best help street children.
All children who participate in the program receive a scholarship to help them families.
Those interested in a more detailed description of Axé and its model should order their excellent book, Plantando Axé.
Axés funding structure includes contracts with local governments, international support, and a store selling Axé products and fashion.
The name of the project come from the Yoruba word for "vital force." African culture, religion, and sometimes even language is still a powerful force in Salvador, and the program makes sure to take advantage of it.
understanding social services for street kids in Latin America