Nearly 570 children and teens between 6 and 18 years old, in socially vulnerable situations, have found a safe haven at the Brazilian Navy’s Marine Corps Base on Governador Island, in Rio de Janeiro. The naval complex serves as a venue for the Ministry of Defense’s Strength in Sports project (Profesp), which aims to reduce social risks and reinforce inclusion and social integration through sports and social activities.
Four units of the Profesp project are based at the naval complex. The latest, inaugurated this year, has 50 children.
All three military institutions — Navy, Army, and Air Force — participate in the Profesp project, each with its own characteristics and activities. The project was launched in 2003 in partnership with the ministries of Citizenship; Education; Women, Family, and Human Rights; and Justice and Public Safety. Currently, according to the Ministry of Defense, the program exists in 211 military units in 125 municipalities, serving a total of 29,618 people.
What stands out on Governador Island is that children and teens with Profesp get to enjoy sailing and rowing classes, as well as music and language courses such as French, all in the heart of the 240-hectare complex surrounded by water where Marine Corps service members train.
“There are children who come from communities with very bad situations. Instead of staying on the streets doing nothing or doing something bad, because of the influence of older people, they are here. We have a motto at Profesp, which is discipline with love. We take the children in, teach them, try to pass on values and include them, make them feel part of Brazilian society, and not outcasts,” Brazilian Navy Colonel Alexandre Soares de Araújo, commander of the Marine Corps Base on Governador Island, told Diálogo. “We take participants to visit museums, do civic-social activities. We are looking at the possibility of tutoring. The sports activities go as far as the imagination goes: soccer, volleyball, beach tennis, swimming in the pool, running…,” Col. Soares said.
Many teens upon reaching the project’s age limit, try out for one of the military institutions and return as service members, he said, adding that sports talents are also discovered.
“Our partnership here is with the Children’s Pastoral Care [social action organization of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops]. They are the ones who choose the children; they have mapped out the places where they need to go […]; they are able to pick the ones who have the most difficulty at home,” Col. Soares said.
The four Profesp units on the island, like the rest of them, work around school hours. If children study in the morning, they participate in the project in the afternoon, and vice-versa. The project includes breakfast or lunch and a snack before heading home or going to school.
Each unit also keeps a close eye on the children to make sure that nothing is out of the ordinary.
“We check their behavior, see if there is anything strange, different from how they usually are […]. When they start to act up in terms of discipline, we talk to the Pastoral teams so that they can check what is going on. Same thing when they are repeatedly absent. They may have some kind of problem […] at home,” Col. Soares said.
Taking part in the project also ends up reflecting positively on school grades. “They usually improve; studying is essentially a matter of discipline. So here they have a schedule, for lunch, for activities, and they end up getting used to it,” Col. Soares said.
A Profesp unit at the Marine Corps Base recently welcome its first teenager with autism. “Before they took César in, they talked to the various professionals who care for him, neurologist, psychotherapist, psychologist. I thought it was so cool,” Nina Rosa Neves Marques, César’s mother, said. “He was able to socialize here; the other children accept him […]. He chose swimming and he really enjoys it. He is more autonomous, comes home and washes his own uniform for the next day. Very positive,” Neves Marques said.