Safe As Houses

Deep in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil lies a secret. It’s a hidden sanctuary, built away from prying eyes and loose lips. It is precious - a treasure which must be kept safe.

The Casa Noeli dos Santos safehouse exists as a place of refuge for victims of domestic abuse. It was opened in 2011 by a long term Christian Aid partner organisation we call SADD (It’s an abbreviation of ‘Anglican Service of Diakonia and Development’ - but that’s not as catchy).

What’s so special about this safehouse is, rather sadly, its rarity. It’s one of just a small handful of women’s safehouses in Brazil. This particular centre provides sanctuary to a population of 150 thousand across 8 townships, should they need it.

With only 10 beds available at any one time and, armed with the statistic that a woman in Brazil is abused every 15 seconds you start to scratch just beneath the surface of a colossal problem.

The refuge is a pleasant and peaceful place. It has 2 bedrooms, a large, shared living room, a communal kitchen and a small vegetable garden enclosed within its walls. 

It was founded by the Rev Elineide Ferreira. She still runs the centre amongst her other parish duties.

“The house started through the need of the town. Women in trouble didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Elineide is young, in her early 30s. With eyes closed it would be impossible to guess so from the way she speaks. She is confident, direct and authoritative. She has a presence.

"The women stay for 90 days at most, though a lot of them are only here for 2-3 days. Often women arrive with no documents, or even spare clothes. They need help with legal processes and help accessing healthcare and education services.

We see many women several times. Some go back to the same aggressor. Some are abused by different partners. There was one case where a woman was murdered after leaving the safe house."

There should be no doubt that this is dangerous work. Providing sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable, preyed-upon people in society puts Elineide and her threadbare bunch of volunteers in harm’s way too.

“We are a team of four, and we stay because we like what we do. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to survive working here.

The women in the house are not allowed cell phones, as it puts the location of the house at risk. The last time the safe house had to move was because a woman told her grandmother where it was, and that was passed on to her husband (the aggressor).”

Elineide is relaxed as she shares such sombre information. It’s clear that she’s not seeking praise or affirmation - just telling the everyday truth of what it means to provide sanctuary in a dangerous world. When asked about her motivation she said:

“What we are doing here is promoting the kingdom of God. This is part of the gospel, this is the way we understand we are to live our lives. We would appreciate prayers for our strength as a team - to keep going. There are many moments when this is hard.”

We are bound together by our stories.

Let us pray.

God of sanctuary,

Be our oasis when we are thirsty,

Be our refuge when we are weary,

Be our harbour at the height of the storm,

Be our hiding place when we are in danger.

We pray for the Rev Elineide, her staff and the women seeking refuge at Casa Noeli dos Santos safehouse in Brazil. We pray that you will give them the strength they need to continue your work, the bravery to keep their doors open and your peace that they might rest in your presence.

Amen.