The History of BRAYCE

We were introduced to Dr. Nanko G. van Buuren in January 2005 and were impressed to learn of his work in the favelas.   He is the founder and President of IBISS (Brazilian Institute for Innovation in Public Health) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After working for the World Health Organization for several years, including reporting on the police assassination of street children in Rio de Janeiro, he founded IBISS in 1987 to achieve a healthier society where diseases and social inequality are fought and human rights respected.

We considered if it might be possible to identify young leaders from his Jovem Liderança (Young Leader) Program to participate in leadership programs in the United States to enhance the community work they were currently involved in.  The concept of BRAYCE (Brazilian and American Youth Cultural Exchange) had its defining moment in the alleyways of Terra Encantada (Enchanted Earth) when, at the invitation of Dr. van Buuren, we toured the favela.  We were there to observe conditions in this shantytown and to learn about one man’s personal commitment to improving human rights by offering opportunities and hope to a marginalized community.  We were invited because of our expressed desire to find a way to help and make a difference to the plight of youngsters in the favelas.  Our dedication to this cause is based on the fact that the Calder family has a 40-year association with Brazil, including a daughter born in Rio and culminating in the marriage of our son to a Carioca (native born resident of Rio) as well as Richard Calder’s significant experience with youth development as a director of Camp Hazen YMCA.

Terra Encantada is home to six thousand poor people, two thousand of them children. Life for the community of Terra Encantada in greater Rio de Janeiro is no different from the urban favelas described above although the terrain is flat, bordered on the west by a fetid, sluggish stream incongruously named Rio Flores (River of Flowers) filled with rotting garbage and debris. The eastern boundary is a high, crumbling concrete wall directly under the towering power lines that feed the northeastern sections of the State of Rio de Janeiro.  Forced to leave urban favelas owing to severe overcrowding problems the inhabitants discovered an abandoned site of a former factory building and made it their home.   When people do not have jobs or economic opportunities poverty is inevitable.  When children do not have safe, nurturing places to go after school, they are more likely to get involved in risky, dangerous, or even criminal activities.  Unless someone or some entity intercedes and endeavors to change conditions the situation can only worsen and for the younger generation particularly, there is no hope for the future. 

Nanko and his young project manager, Sandro, escorted us along alleys and streets with no names.  At one large open space, dotted with high columns from the derelict factory, Sandro explained the plan to restore the roof and create a large indoor community center.  Further on a small building was being completely renovated to become a cafeteria, meeting and school room, complete with a well equipped kitchen to feed one hundred young children with breakfast before they started on their daily walk to school, nearly a mile away.  Nanko’s funding was providing materials and the favela residents were doing the work, with Sandro in charge.

Nanko rescued Sandro at 19 from a drug gang where he was a soldier, a lookout, drug runner and an accomplished small arms brigand. After relinquishing this life of violence and attending Nankos Soldados Nunca Mas (Soldiers Never More) training program, Sandro took a paid role as a project manager in Terra Encantada. He talked enthusiastically about his interest in technology and his desire to become a computer expert.  At 24 he was back in school in eighth grade, fiercely determined to complete his schooling and to somehow find a way to acquire the necessary technical training.  We wondered how we might contribute to the IBISS Organization.

The answer became clear driving back to the city.  As a director of Camp Hazen YMCA in Chester, Connecticut, for several years Richard immediately recognized the synergy between the objectives of IBISS and the Camp’s youth leadership program.  Subsequently, the idea developed with Nanko to enhance the IBISS Jovem Liderancas program by introducing a cultural exchange between our respective organizations.  BRAYCE was conceived. Subsequently, Nanko selected two young leaders from Terra Encantada and fundraising began in the United States to support the initiative.

BRAYCE is in partnership with Camp Hazen in Connecticut, IBISS in Rio and other organizations in Paraty to continue to bring underprivileged young leaders to Connecticut for life and leadership skills training.  These young leaders are selected by our Brazilian partners on the basis of their interests, strengths and desire to work with children. Already in paid leadership and project roles in Rio and Paraty, they worked alongside other potential counselors at Camp Hazen learning key project and camp leadership skills.  All have enthusiastically engaged in all the training activities. Camp staff, young campers and their peer group of trainees embraced the youngsters and all have graduated with flying colors from the program. On returning to Rio they always receive a rapturous homecoming welcome from family and friends in addition to representatives from BRAYCE and IBISS.  BRAYCEs intention is to continue to build cadres of young leaders who, over the coming years, will make a significant difference in their respective communities.

The Calder family has had a strong association with Brazil since 1964 which led to the formation of BRAYCE in 2005. Camp Hazen YMCA in Chester, Connecticut, is a renowned, independent Youth Leadership Training Center, located on beautiful Cedar Lake and surrounded by 150 acres of forest. Four levels of camping, Life and Leadership training and counselor experience are offered to 15 to 21 year olds who attend for either one month programs or the entire summer. In addition to Leadership training there are programs in Outdoor Pursuits, Land Sports, Creative Pursuits, Water Sports, and Adventure Trips. These programs complement the training programs in Rio de Janeiro.

The seven established and esteemed organizations in Brazil associated with BRAYCE for this program, together with Camp Hazen in the USA, all share a common philosophy of respect for human rights, building a healthier society and investing in youth.

Our nation will succeed or fail to the degree that all of us — citizens and businesses alike — are active participants in building strong, sustainable and enriching communities — Arnold Hiatt. ex CEO StrideRite