First Person: 'I help women escape the favelas'

Luciano Rodrigues Dos Santos, 27

I grew up in a shantytown on the outskirts of Salvador, north-east Brazil, one of eight children. We shared three rooms and money was scarce, forcing my brothers, sister and I to sell snacks on the beach to survive. I was seven when I started selling peanuts before moving on to barbecue cheese because it was more lucrative. Every day for six years was the same. School at 7am, eat a lunch of rice and beans at noon and then hit the beach, carrying a 10kg barbecue bucket of burning coals in the 30-degree heat which would blister my hands.

I never thought of the future – at least I could practise English with foreigners: my hope was that one day I might become a tour guide. Then, aged 13, I met two Canadian tourists who worked for the charity Street Angels. It changed my life. The charity sponsored me $30 a month, helping to buy food and school uniforms for our family. Four years later, in September 2001, they funded me to go to college to study English in Vancouver. I was excited but terrified; I'd never even been outside Salvador, let alone Brazil.

I loved Canada. Every day was exciting, and I gradually picked up the language, getting people to help me by just smiling when I didn't understand something. I missed my family, of course. In my country, everyone is friendly and invites you to parties, but Canadians are more reserved: it takes a long time to even be invited to tea. I studied there for three years, and fell in love with the country – and eating sushi. When my visa ran out in September 2004, I returned to Brazil to work for a Street Angels project in a favela, Don Aurora, near my home, where I helped set up a medical centre.

In December 2007, an English charity volunteer introduced me to Oliver Wayman and Cameron Saul, who run the UK charity Bottletop. They raise funds through fashion and music initiatives to help local communities, and fund youth sex- education projects to help prevent the spread of HIV and sexual disease. They were looking for local people to make handbags made of salvaged ring pulls from drinks cans, similar to designs being sold in local markets.

It sounded a great idea as many of the women in Don Aurora have no education and no work, or are forced to travel to do housekeeping. It means they can't keep an eye on their children who are at risk of being lured to run drugs for local gangs.

We started off with seven women. Now demand is high enough that there are 27 women, who can make 750 Real (£250) a month to buy food and clothing. I used to think dreaming of a future was a luxury only afforded the rich. Bottletop has made that a reality for so many. I'm now studying for a degree while running the co-op, and it feels good to be helping others.

Visit bottletop.org, or to buy a Fenchurch Loves Bottletop handbag from £50, visit fenchurch.com/bottletop

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?