Who Are the River People?

Few know it, but they're out there. They are lost in the largest rain forest in the world, along the banks of great rivers and streams and lakes, in places that are flooded for the greater part of the year. We're not talking about alligators, jaguars, exotic birds or trees. We are talking about people, people like you and me. They're not Indians, in spite of leading a very primitive life without the comforts the city can offer. They are river people. This is what they are called, because they live alongside the rivers.

They are people of simple habits who fight daily against a series of difficulties and obstacles, just to survive in the most adverse conditions possible. The river people find themselves constantly challenged by flooding, sicknesses, lack of work and lack of food. If that were not enough, they still must struggle against the common dangers of the jungle: jaguars, snakes, alligators and stingrays.

Unfortunately, these are not the only dangers that surround the river people. Alcoholism, prostitution, manual labor that borders slavery, and domestic violence are also threats. Add to that theft and murder, not uncommon in these river communities, especially during their times of festivals. These problems have penetrated the jungle and done great damage, many times, irreparable, in the families and lives of these river people.

The river people lead a difficult life. While the majority of us can go to any supermarket, the river people are happy to get to go the regatoes, vendors on commercial boats, and sell, or better yet, trade their products for a "survival kit": sugar, salt, coffee, and with a little luck, a can of powdered milk. Their need obligates them to do this. There is no other way to sustain their poor products, even though to them they are so valuable. The lives of these people are monotonous. They are destitute and secluded, and besides that, the majority of them can't read nor have any expectations concerning the future. The parents find themselves obligated to put the entire family to work in the field just to meet the basic needs of survival, leaving

little time left over to hear about God. Because of this, the number of conversions among river people is not large, for conditions are precarious. This doesn't take into account the pressure put upon the individual in regards to conversion by the community, family and jobs. Living in the places they do, going to church regularly is difficult, requiring a great disposition to make the effort to do so.

We see these difficulties as a great opportunity for changes, seeking to fill this solitude and impede the slide into misery. In an effort to revert their lack of initiative, we teach the importance of activities in cooperative effort, looking for solutions that are familiar among the river people.

The official data of the Brazilian Institute of Geographic Statistics and the Public Library of Humaita show growth among the river people population. Based on this information, and in a quest for solutions to social problems on a local level, we carry out research to discover what other states and countries have done who are committed to creating efficient socio-economic programs that are directed to individuals or targeted needy communities.

The Happy Side of the River People

In spite of the above-mentioned facts, there is a happy side to the people, a side that is content with the life they lead. They don't require much to be happy: they swim and fish, bringing their catch to the dinner table. For entertainment for the children, a simple toy is enough, perhaps a ball or a boat made out of wood. The adults love to tell stories and have a good laugh, even if it is without teeth or with the few they have left. They feel pride when showing their fields of manioc. Even with all the hard physical work, they still manage to find strength to play and be happy with so little.

We well know that an evil side exists, obscure among this or any other people group, a lazy side and a comfortable and indifferent side without expectations, but its counterpart is a working side, families who fight to survive and exert themselves to attain something better. A part of the heart of the river people harbors a hope for a better tomorrow.