The Story of Casa do Caminho
Carlos Alberto Nogueira founded Comunidade Rural Casa do Caminho in 1982, with the help of five friends. He had the idea because those six people had been working for some time distributing food and helping homeless people in Rio de Janeiro, along with the organization Fraternidade dos Irmãos Menores. His initial idea was to build a shelter for the homeless, in a green, quiet area, where they could be away from life at the city center. The group chose a place hidden between the fields, mountains and forests of the Mata Atlântica, to begin the project.
During the first five years of the project, the original group of founders lived among men and women who were alcoholics or had mental deficiencies, along with children, creating a unique community, who lived in precarious buildings with no electricity. The area around Casa do Caminho was extremely underdeveloped, and there was no public nor private school available for the children who lived in that region. Therefore, during the first year of its existence, the residents of the institution built a school, called “Escola Rural Divina Mãe”. That school functioned for 13 years, with volunteers and residents of Casa do Caminho, until it was no longer necessary because the government founded a school in the region.
Only in the 90´s, the main goals of Casa do Caminho changed, and projects related to children and teenagers at social risk were prioritized. The organization grew, and hired new staff which included educators, cooks, pedagogues, psychologist, social assistant, and an administrative team, aside from volunteers from Brazil and the rest of the world. Carlos Alberto Nogueira died at the end of the decade, before the turn of the century, and the organization continued under the direction of Renato Pinto Campos, who was also one of the original founding members. Shortly after that, the Society of Friends of Casa do Caminho was founded, which had also been an idea of Carlos Alberto, and which turned out to be essential for the continuity of the work of Casa do Caminho.
Some time later, Mr. Hans Eberhard, from Germany, came to know the institution, and, gradually, started collecting funds in his hometown, Heppenheim. He became a great benefactor of Casa do Caminho, and, throughout more than 15 years, helped strengthen the work of the organization. Thanks to the funds that Hans Eberhard and practically all his family managed to donate, many new constructions were built at the main site. In a similar way, two new properties were acquired in Xerém, where houses were built for teenagers to live in, since there wasn’t –and still doesn´t exist in a large part of the rural area of Xerém- a school for students of that age group.
In 2007, Renato invited Bart Bijen, an ex-volunteer who had just finished an MBA in the Netherlands, to help administer the organization. Bart had been a volunteer at Casa do Caminho in 2003, and had subsequently organized various campaigns to help the organization. Along with innumerous citizens and his relatives from the city of Beek, in the Netherlands, he gathered funds to build a high-quality sports field. Together, Renato and Bart made the number of volunteers grow, bringing in people from all the world to help at the orphanage and with the various projects they were planning. In 2009, Bart founded the “Caminho Languages Center” in Ipanema, with the aim of helping to finance Casa do Caminho. A Cultural Center was also founded to develop various activities in Xerém. All this helped to improve the financial situation of the organization.
In 2011, governmental authorities of Brazil demanded that the younger children that were living at the Main Site of Casa do Caminho were transferred to Xerém. CRCC then had to prepare yet another house there, in order for the children to go live in the town, along with the teenagers that were already there because of the school necessity. Meanwhile, the Main Site continued to be used as a residence for volunteers, and a place for events during special occasions.
However, government policy regarding orphanages and shelters for the young continued to change radically, and the board of directors of Casa do Caminho decided to stop working as a shelter for children and teenagers, at the start of 2014. The organization then decided to look for new ways to help the community, maintaining its original fraternal spirit. Thus, the project "Educação Sem Fronteiras" was born; the first of this new phase of Casa do Caminho´s history, destined to help improve the quality of education in the public schools located in the rural area surrounding Xerém.
Today, Casa do Caminho is still reinventing itself, creating new and diverse projects to continue with its mission of helping others, with the aid of local and international volunteers.