Passo a Passo

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By: Julianne Parker, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker, one of the sixteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

Fourteen-year old Ingrid, in recovery from a crippling crack addiction at the Lua Nova residency in Araçoiaba, Brazil, found out that she is pregnant this past week. Two days after the news broke she ran away. The weight and terror of such an unknown future was simply too much to bear, and she, along with many other girls at Lua Nova, imagine that fleeing is the only solution. Facing up to the challenges at hand, rising slowly above them to create a new life is a wrenching process that takes active dedication.

The good news is that Ingrid was quickly found and returned to the shelter to begin this process of change and empowerment.

When Ashoka Fellow Raquel Barros started this organization ten years ago, she wanted to create a haven for girls like Ingrid. Girls that no other organization or government initiative was helping. Girls who had been chewed up and spit out by society, who were forgotten and alienated, and yet have such incredible potential to transform themselves and their communities, breaking cycles of abuse and poverty.

The last two months working through Raquel’s vision have been both inspiring and frustrating. The core mission of Lua Nova is revolutionary and powerful: motherhood is not a problem, it is a gift. Young girls who have been forced into motherhood are capable and intelligent. If just given the proper tools, they can succeed in building a new life without drugs, without prostitution and trafficking and abuse, with their children. As mothers.

And yet in the day to day execution of such a vision, I continue to feel thwarted by huge obstacles. How do you combat a lifetime of bad examples, of systematic neglect and abuse? How do you reverse such norms? My belief in Raquel’s vision nevertheless inspires me to pick up and keep going, passo a passo, step by step, in this journey to instill in these new mothers the capacity for real social change.

The truth is that I am such a small part in this organization and its mission. I am conducting motherhood education courses and working with the girls in regular group and individual therapy sessions that attempt to help them recover from past abuse and regain confidence in themselves and in their potential as mothers. This process has been incredibly gradual, as the girls have very slowly learned to open themselves up to me. They’ve been abandoned by so many people in their lives, it is only natural that they would wait six weeks to see if I was actually sticking around to trust me.

But changes are happening, if ever so slowly. I am starting a new income-generating project with the girls in the next month, and am looking forward to its potential in involving a more global audience to Lua Nova and its work. Stay tuned and learn more at!