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FROM CEMETERIES TO SCHOOLS, THE BIONDAN BROTHER’S QUEST TO CHANGE THE WORLD

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Arturo and Walter Biondan first met Sister Armida Terraneo through a mutual friend, a priest from Verona, in 1993. Arturo and Walter had founded Biondan SpA, an advanced bronze production company of quality cemetery products, back in 1956. As the company grew, they were continually drawn to the idea of "giving something back". The brothers were craftsman, focusing on quality and saw their business grow through the individual attention and skill they brought to it, their passion.

The meeting with Sister Armida, who had been living in Brazil since 1980, was that watershed moment that allowed them to begin their dream of doing something more than just for themselves and their industry. Sister Armida spoke of her deep concern for the children (and their families) who lived in the shantytowns of Vila Cafeteira near Sao Luis where she was stationed. And Walter and Arturo were captured by her passion… they had to do something to help.

The shantytowns are located in a coffee growing region of north eastern Brazil, where poverty is widespread, disease is prevalent, and sanitation is poor. Three quarters of all families with children survive on a monthly income of about $63 US. This is an area of high unemployment, environmental neglect and social uncertainty with a significant percentage of the population addicted to drugs.

The majority of children live in single family households where running water and sewage facilities are unavailable. Most houses are made of mud.

Child abuse is common, and children have little to look forward to in life. A fifth of all children between the ages of 10 and 14 worked in hopeless conditions of abject slavery. They had no expectations of improving their lives.

Walter and Arturo travelled to Brazil to see conditions for themselves. They were so inspired by Sister Armida, that the entire Biondan family decided to help build a complex of schools. This complex would be named Pão da Vida meaning "the Bread of Life" and would consist of a preschool, a primary and a secondary school.

In order to help the students become self-supporting, professional or apprenticeship 'laboratories' were also built. An IT lab was planned for older students, a sewing lab to produce school uniforms and teach students the art of sewing and yet another lab was planned to teach the art of hairdressing to parents and children. This was an ambitious project, but Sister Armida and the Biondans were confident that it would make a magnificent difference in the lives of hundreds of children, enabling them to lead dignified, healthy and productive lives.

Pão da Vida is now a reality. 1,478 children currently attend the school. (250 preschool, 926 primary level and 660 secondary school students)

The school is supported by 150 teachers and service staff. Children attend classes morning and afternoon; they receive nutritional meals and have access to medical, dental and psychological care on site. Their well-ordered lives are now filled with tranquility and contentment. They are learning a path forward through commitment to hard work.

In addition to a general and religious education, the children are taught the importance of family, friendship and hard work.

Sister Armida still oversees the school as a general manager and one of her many wishes is to develop certification courses for older students to help them obtain future employment.

On a recent visit (2015), Walter and Arturo took their grandchildren (all 8) to see and work in the school – a legacy they are very proud of and want to continue through many generations. While there, Sister Armida shared the many inspiring stories of her ex-alumni students:
  • Rafael, the fourth of ten children with a single mother, was able to find a job at a methane gas station. After graduating from Pão da Vida, he was able to take a computer course, obtain a drivers licence and is now able to support his entire family. 
  • Merinha, the eldest daughter of five children with an elderly father and a mother, unable to speak due a medical condition, completed her studies at Pão da Vida and succeeded in landing a career at the SADIA factory in Mato Grosso, the second largest food company in Brazil. She applied for this position on the internet, a common enough occurrence in North America but previously unheard of in the shantytowns of Vila Cafeteira
  • Felipe, the eldest of three children, completed his studies at Pão da Vida and gained a place at a university. He started a gymnastics academy on entering university and is already planning to enlarge his business because of the high demand. Felipe plans to graduate from university in June, 2009.
  • Jean, the son of a local driver for the police force, is proudly studying business management at university and is soon to graduate.
  • Ramon, the youngest of three children, lost his father while young. He is extremely intelligent and during military service, attended a course that would enable him to make a career in the army. Top of his class, while waiting to be called up, he is studying accountancy at university.

Although these stories may seem simple to us in the Western World, they represent a huge advancement in these children's lives. The individual care Arturo and Walter brought to their business in 1956, is bearing fruit in these children's lives through the genuine care and compassion that exudes from these brother's hearts.

Arturo, Walter and the Biondan family remain in close contact with the school and children and continue to visit it and sponsor the operations. The local inhabitants always welcome the Biondan family and to show their appreciation for the difference in their lives, they named a street after them, the 'Via Fratelli Biondan N 1'.

The school receives no government funding but is solely supported by the Biondan family, their friends and business associates and donations. These donations are in the form of 'adoptions' from the public abroad. The annual cost of supporting a child is $328.

From small beginnings, seasoned with care and passion, Walter and Arturo changed the world.
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AN EMBALMERS ROLE IN MEMORIALISATION
 

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

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