Desmond Tutu award for Dutchman in Rio: Nanko Van Buuren

18 Jan 2012

Desmond Tutu award for Dutchman in Rio

Published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide on : 12 December 2011 – 8:41pm | By Ralph Rozema

Nanko van Buuren has rescued more than 1,400 children from drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro in the past three years and probably saved their lives. He has been awarded the Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship for his work in the favelas of Brazil. RNW visited him in Rio.

We drive into the Vila Aliança district to the football school run by IBISS, a social health organisation set up more than 20 years ago by Van Buuren and a number of like-minded Brazilians. IBISS employs 400 people and dozens of projects spread across the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area.

Tutu Award

The Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship is conferred by the Global Reconciliation foundation based in Melbourne, Australia. The award will be presented in February.

Guns or football
It’s a large training field and the kids are passionate about the game, but there is also a teenager with a machine gun wandering around.

“That’s not allowed on the pitch, that’s one of our rules. If you want to play, then no guns. They have to choose one or the other.”

More and more child soldiers are choosing to leave the gangs. “We offer them a refuge” comments Nanko van Buuren.

Stray Bullets 
Soldados Nunca Mais (Soldiers Never More) is the name of the programme which rescues children from gangs. Van Buuren: “If you stay with the gang, you're more or less certain to die. Police bullets, a rival gang’s bullets or just stray bullets”

Still, the temptation is strong for many children.
“They can earn money in a gang, they have prestige. But through us they can build a new life. More and more of them want to leave. We try to win their trust gradually.”

Police and soldiers
The favelas are very much in the news in Brazil. The government is trying to make them safe for the forthcoming football World Cup in 2014 and then the Olympic Games in 2016. The police and the army have entered a number of favelas – in a blaze of publicity – looking to chase away the drug gangs.

Walking around the Vila Cruzeiro favela it’s clear the atmosphere has changed. Teenagers with guns have given way to military patrols. But the locals say the gangs have not left, they’ve just gone underground.

The quiet life
Rogerio is an IBISS representative in Vila Cruzeiro who talks to child soldiers who want to give it up. Until a few years ago he was a gang member himself. He talks about violence, about the times he had to kill someone. And he talks about his luxury lifestyle: “We were swimming in money. Sometimes we would rent a complete hotel. And we had the most beautiful women.”

Now he is married and leads a much quieter life. He works for IBISS and also teaches. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Original story on Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Victoria Baldwin