Demonstrating that Young Mothers at Risk can be Powerful Citizens
Raquel Barros was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
Raquel Barros is transforming the lives of young, at-risk mothers in a holistic way. She founded Lua Nova to focus on rescuing and rehabilitating teenage mothers and at-risk youth, while emphasizing the right to motherhood. Her organization allows young mothers and their children to rediscover citizenship and self-esteem so they no longer are excluded from society, through innovative career and construction training, income generation workshops, health care, psychotherapy, and remedial classes.
The income generation program consists of a bakery and a craft production center called "Creating Art." The young mothers are also empowered to build their own homes, allowing them to avoid paying rent after completing the program.
Lua Nova’s methodology has been replicated in eight cities in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo. In this short video, Rachel tells us about the main challenges she’s encountered during her ten years of work, as both a woman and a leader of an organization that works with girls and women.
She stresses that to be effective requires putting yourself in the public eye. In conclusion, she encourages us to take our ideas for change that will solve social challenges and put them into practice, even when it might seem impossible at first.
I am Raquel Barros from Lua Nova in Brazil. Lua Nova works with at-risk teenage mothers. They are young women who have children, who are living on the street, and who are victims of sexual abuse. They are people who are taken in by Lua Nova. We have a program that develops their potential and abilities through income generation and job skills training. We also have a program where they earn an income while building their own houses. They build their home while, at the same time, they are able to make an income by selling bricks.
During the ten years of Lua Nova’s existence, we have encountered a series of challenges. One of the early challenges was being able to show that it was possible for me, as a women and psychologist, to create such a large, transformational process for these people.
Another issue, that was much more complicated at first, was how to show these girls that they can believe in their own potential—believe in their abilities, and to demonstrate these abilities to society. Since people are used to seeing them as “vulnerable,” presenting these girls as people who have potential, who can change their own lives, is a very difficult task, and people don’t typically accept this at first.
Finally, there is a policy issue: we are trying to include these young mothers in the public policy agenda, which is not an easy task.
I would like to tell everyone who wants to get involved with this population, and work with them, that you should never cease to stand by them, because just as we believe in their potential, they have a lot to teach us; a lot to tell us; and we need to listen to them. Indeed, we have to do it—we can’t be afraid to do it. I think it’s important to do this, and I believe what we are doing is possible!
Raquel Barros is a psychologist who made a suggestion while working at a drug recovery education center in Venice, Italy: begin treating mothers with their children. She believed that motherhood could help women with their recovery, while supporting the development of their children. Upon returning to Brazil, she decided to establish a residential treatment facility, called Lua Nova, that has worked to rehabilitate young mothers in vulnerable conditions for the past ten years.
Photo by Renato Stockler