Prioritizing Families in NEOJIBA’s Virtual Programming

By Olgair Marques, Coordinator of the Social Development Sector of NEOJIBA

NEOJIBA’s Social Development team poses together after a day of training. Credit Karol Azevedo.

NEOJIBA is a public El Sistema-inspired program in Brazil, founded by Ricardo Castro in 2007 and implemented by the State of Bahia through the Secretariat of Justice, Human Rights, and Social Development (Secretaria de Justiça, Direitos Humanos e Desenvolvimento Social). One of our most critical components is the Social Development Sector, which is composed of eight professionals with educational backgrounds in social work and psychology. These professionals work daily to ameliorate socioeconomic and educational inequalities that confront many of our students, and to provide full access to social rights. They also provide individual and/or group psychosocial appointments for students and their families. Through attentive and qualified listening, our professionals enable families to work through social circumstances and establish intervention strategies. These unfold in a set of actions, tailored to each individual or family, that help participants work through their specific issues.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, these social services have taken on a more prominent role in our programming this year; from January through mid-June of 2020, we have carried out 2,180 activities and interventions for families. These activities primarily consist of counseling, assistance, psychosocial follow-ups, and socio-educational activities. Of those 2,180 interventions, 1,516 took place during the pandemic.

As all programs will understand, it was a challenge for our team to reinvent itself in order to continue the practices that it had already developed—and that families had come to rely on—while adapting them to a distance context. Immediately after social distancing guidelines went into effect, pedagogical and social development teams received specific complementary training in order to measure the psychosocial impacts on our members and their families. In just 48 hours, NEOJIBA’s online platform was up and running. Due to our suddenly reduced expenses without in-person learning, we have been able to help the most economically vulnerable families acquire and install internet data packages and remain part of our network. This has had a significant positive impact on our members; even via distance interactions, the ethical principles that underpin and sustain our professional interventions have remained intact.

The team learns psychological techniques through group activities. Credit Karol Azevedo.

During the quarantine period, we have carried out two cycles of online meetings with families, designed to maintain an active bond and keep them informed on current topics. The first cycle was primarily COVID-focused, offering insight and guidance on changes to the Organic Law on Social Assistance, as well as emergency benefits at all three levels of government. Considering the ever-changing situation abroad, it became difficult for families to follow along with evolving guidelines. This was not only confusing, but stressful; we knew we had to do something to combat the mental effects of isolation and uncertainty.

The second cycle of online meetings, held in early June, aimed to promote reflection on family relationships during the pandemic using technical support from our Social Development Sector. Through an activity called “Hunting for Treasure,” we discuss the family context by reflecting on the following questions: What is the object you use the most today? What is the first thing you look at when you wake up? What are you afraid to break? In this way, we also provide a more relaxed time for families, adapting the themes of each meeting to the circumstances of each family. Says mother Rosa Barbosa, whose sons Lucas and Ricardo are members of the Núcleo de Cordas Dedilhadas: “We talk about our uncertainties as parents and share our perspective on this. The impression I have is that NEOJIBA members are not alone.”

The Social Development Sector also operates in conjunction with the public network of social assistance services and private partnerships. NEOJIBA makes it easier by guiding its members and families to public and social policies that can help them, providing access where it may otherwise not be available. This safety net has only strengthened our network of núcleos.

About 800 families participated in the remote meetings, always giving us positive feedback. We are glad to have helped members and their families establish a healthy routine in their personal lives—even when it goes beyond the scope of music-making. Says Orquestra 2 de Julho violinist Gabriela Dalcom de Oliveira, “This isolation has been a great time to reorganize thoughts. And music has been my medicine, which keeps me sane. NEOJIBA keeps a very important flame burning inside. It has given me hope. I can only give thanks for being part of the program and knowing that we are not being left out.”

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