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Saturday, May 28, 2011
From the risk of delinquency to the business risk. The protagonists are streetkids in an expanding handbag business. The story as told to the EoC Assembly taking place in São Paolo, Brazil.

It is not situated in the main passageway used by the 650 people attending the Economy of Communion Assembly, but it is the most visited stand during work breaks. They sell women’s handbags, jackets, and women’s clothing.

They are a mix of quality and modern design, with charming touches of originality, as is the source of raw materials: truck tarpaulins, scraps of leather, and old jeans – all environmentally friendly materials. But the striking thing about the business is the boys and girls, all of them minors except for a few who have recently become adults. They all come from difficult backgrounds.

The product’s brand name “Dall Strada” (“From the Street”), is quite a good choice for the entrepreneurial project which opened in the Spartaco industrial park, five kilometres from Mariapolis Ginetta. Knowing the origins, it seems more like a challenge than a business production, but watching some ten young teenage boys and girls at work and hearing what motivates them, makes you understand the good results in production, which hold promise for the future of the business.

The young workers come mostly from one of the poorest quarters, the Jardin Margaarida barrio, in Vargem Grande Paulista, 30 kilometres south of São Paolo. “This is more than a business. We help each other, because this is a group project, but tehre’s also a family atmosphere. We begin each day with the Word of Life which helps us to overcome the difficulties.” Divani is an eighteen year-old, who reached here after a year of professional training and a stay in the Northeast, in Recife, in the mother-business which began the Economy of Communion.

Behind the business lies the meekness and determination of João Bosco Lima de Santana, an entrepreneur who went to Italy to specialize in producing handbags and then returned to the country to set up an acivity for profit. But something inside was urging him to do something greater. As a child, he had come to know the spirituality of the Focolare and was struck by the proposal of Chiara Lubich to “die for ones own people”.

His life then went took another direction. But when he met Father Renato and his Home for Minors, which welcomes teens and children who live in the streets, it consolidated one of his desires: “To use my life and skills to provide youths with a profession.Work training is a form of development, and we’ve seen that living love for a great cause is capable of renewing things, ideas, and people who come from the streets.”

From what he sees each day, João Bosco is able to credibly affirm that “here in the business, they are given the first place.” It is a paradox for entrepreneurial logic, but it bears fruit. A request arrived from the Ivory Coast to be trained in this production activity and to begin it there. And through the Youth for a United World, through the Equiverso Cooperative, handbags have begun to be imported in Italy. Tiny multi-nationals of the EoC are growing.

By   Paolo Lòriga