RIO DE JANEIRO – Ten-year-old Ana’s pretty face remains scarred by a bullet that also left an indelible mark on her memory, making her one of the thousands of childhood victims of Rio de Janeiro’s raging shantytown wars.
She was visiting her grandparents in the Alemao complex when gunshots were suddenly heard near their home. Her mother hid her in the bathroom but when the shooting stopped, she went out into the living room – and a bullet fired through the window hit her under her left eye.
Ana is still afraid and has joined with hundreds of other children, who, through the “Do You Need to Draw It?” project, call for peace and want to recover the childhood that this violence has stolen from them.
“Many children in this war are shot, while others are kidnapped or die without being able to defend themselves. Now I ask if a human being prefers to live in such pain or just die,” Ana wrote in “Sowing Peace,” her contribution to the project of journalist Bruno Alfano and the Rio daily Extra.
“Do You Need to Draw It?” began in a school as a kind of therapy to help kids get over this terror, “but the pictures they drew were so shocking that the editor of the daily decided to take it further. It’s really moving,” Alfano, who specializes in educational subjects, told EFE.
Like Ana, children between ages 6-11 in 10 community schools on the north and east sides of Rio – the most troubled areas – have described the violence, and many of their writings and drawings have been published on the front page of Extra.
Their complaints are powerful: “Stop shooting people,” “I don’t want gunshots, I want peace,” “Peace for the city of Rio,” “Gunshots kill and don’t let me sleep,” and “Oh God, don’t let the bullets hit our school.”
Their infantile sketches show shots being fired from armored cars, dead bodies at the doors of a school, shooters on rooftops and suns shedding tears over the victims.
In contrast, under the word “Peace” the little ones drew pictures of themselves playing in squares and parks, with smiling suns, hearts and flowers.
“There are gunshots all day,” said Marina, 8, who this week barely escaped unhurt from a shooting at her father’s vehicle.
Marina and her pals Igor and Manuel are tired of shootouts between “bandidos” (criminals, drug traffickers) and police.
“We don’t want either of the two, not the police, not the bandidos. They both have guns and shoot people, innocent people,” Manuel said.
But through it all, little Ana never stops smiling and is sure her dream will come true, which is to “recover the childhood this war stole from us.”