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Margarita Duran leads an egg decorating activity for immigrant and refugee children in São Paulo.

Margarita Duran brings joy and beauty to refugee children in Brazil

By Kathleen Maynard

I have recently had the joy of accompanying Margarita Duran, a fellow lay missioner here in São Paulo, Brazil, to her ministry of teaching art to immigrant and refugee children. Last week I accompanied her to the homeless shelter Centro Social Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida Social Center), which serves women and children. Most of them are immigrants and refugees who are entering the country and are in need of refuge and support while they establish themselves here. The shelter was founded by the Pallotine Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate.

When the children at the center heard that Margarita was setting up for art class in the activity room, they came skipping in with broad smiles on their faces, ready to participate. That day Margarita had prepared an egg-decorating activity. The children watched attentively as she demonstrated how to mix the paints with water and then dip the egg in order to create a marbleized-design. Chatter and laughter filled the air as they worked away making a collection of creatively colored eggs!

Margarita’s activities at the center provide a welcome opportunity for the children to engage their creativity and spend time with a positive mentor.

Another afternoon I accompanied Margarita to her ministry at the Centro da Integração do Imigrante (Center for Immigrant Integration). Again I witnessed broad smiles on children’s faces as they skipped in and took their places at the art table. This day center welcomes immigrants and refugees from the surrounding neighborhoods for classes, activities and meals. An incredibly lively space, the center offers cooking classes taught by a Cuban immigrant, information technology taught by a woman from Venezuela, health and yoga classes for women, Portuguese classes taught by the sisters, as well as play hours for children.

Margarita talks with children in front of the "birthday tree" at the Center for Immigrant Integration.

Margarita talks with children in front of the “birthday tree” at the Center for Immigrant Integration.

Laughter and Latin can be heard in the background. The wall is decorated with an expansive “birthday tree” that Margarita created to mark the birthdays of all of the children who frequent the center (a branch for each month and a little leaf for each child). The neighborhood is home to many Bolivians, Peruvians, Venezuelans as well as immigrants from other parts of Latin America and the world. Immigrants often come to Brazil to escape poverty, violence and instability in their home countries.

Margarita planned a well-received painting activity that engaged the children in using string and paint to create swirling designs on their card paper. The kids watched and listened to Margarita as she provided a demonstration and handed out supplies, speaking and asking questions in English as she went. The children are eager to pick up English vocabulary, which is why Margarita has decided to integrate English into the art classes.

When the children finished, they were given a snack and then left the table to play and run around the activity area. Later, as parents arrived, the children said good-bye to Margarita with big hugs as they trickled out the door. Sitting in the welcome area. I asked a young girl from Bolivia about her day-to-day life. She described her public school in the neighborhood that she attends in the mornings. Her classroom has around 40 children with one teacher and no structured extracurricular activities. She said she was very glad that she had discovered the Centro da Integração do Imigrante, where she feels safe and happy to participate in lively activities among a loving community.

Kathleen Maynard and Margarita Duran both serve as Maryknoll lay missioners in São Paulo, Brazil.

Photos by Kathleen Maynard