Door-to-Door Human Rights

by Instituto C&A on Dec 22, 2017

Instituto C&A conducts frequent project assessments because we believe we must be transparent when it comes to our successes and shortcomings, and because we want to contribute to a learning network in our organization and in the local organizations in civil society. Along that line, we recently assessed the Migrant Support and Pastoral Centre (CAMI), which promotes social inclusion actions that guarantee the rights of immigrants 

Among those who have received support from CAMI is Bolivian Zacarias Saavedra. He arrived in Brazil in a situation of extreme vulnerability. Today, he works directly for CAMI. His job is to locate immigrants in situations of slave labour or victims of some sort of violence. Zacarias’s story is inspiring, and represents the stories of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country in precarious conditions and that with the help of CAMI have managed to build a new life.

“I was brought in to be cheap labour in a sewing workshop that exploits immigrants.”

CAMI's Zacarias

Zacarias was just over 50 years old when he first came to Brazil in 2005. He had been fired from his job as a teacher, and the prospects of finding a new job in Bolivia were scarce. He left behind everything he had built throughout his life: his family, career and friends. When he arrived in São Paulo, his possessions consisted of a suitcase filled with clothes and a folder with personal documents. Among the documents was what he considered his passport for a new start: a page from a notebook with an address written in pencil. At that address, he would find a job and a place to live. 

The truth, however, was a nightmare. When he arrived at destination, Zacarias became just another perverse statistic, one that makes victims of immigrants. When they are attracted by the promise of a new life, they arrive in the country as irregular migrants. In a situation of vulnerability, they are thrown into the underworld of illegality. “I was drawn by an illusion,” Zacarias recalls. “I was brought in to be cheap labour in a sewing workshop that exploits immigrants.”

Zacarias was no longer a young man with the energy to face 14-hour shifts at a sewing machine. “Back then, the situation was much worse. Today, immigrants are stronger. There are organisations that help keep them out of the clutches of slave labour,” he says. 

It was one of those organisations that saved Zacarias’s life. Things hadn’t worked out at the workshop and he was going door to door selling salteñas, a savoury pastry typical of the Andean region. He was barely able to support himself and the situation went from bad to worse. Until a friend introduced him to CAMI - Migrant Support and Pastoral Centre. There he was welcomed. He was given legal assistance for migratory regularisation. For the first time since he left Bolivia, he started to believe it was possible to build a new life. At CAMI, he and other immigrants have access to classes in Portuguese, entrepreneurship, modelling and management. They can get their documents in order. 

The turning point for his new life came when Zacarias proposed a deal with CAMI. He offered his best: an unbeatable capacity for dialogue and negotiation. It’s what he continues to do today with love and dedication. As a social agent, he visits sewing workshops and provides Bolivian immigrants with information on how they can exercise their rights and take a variety of courses. Thanks to Zacarias, CAMI broadened its ability to hold dialogues with the Bolivian community. With his capacity for dialogue, Zacarias helps strengthen CAMI’s ties with immigrants at risk, often victims of slave labour. “Today I feel accomplished.” 

Zacarias is up each day at the crack of dawn. Together with his partner, Ruth Callisaya, he heads off to the big city of São Paulo in search of sewing workshops. It’s a door-to-door job, but he’s no longer selling salteñas. What he offers now is a gateway to dignity and human rights.