A History of the Canadian International Society of São Paulo
The year is 1962. The place is São Paulo, Brazil—a city of 12 million people—many of whom are well below the U.N. levels of poverty. While São Paulo is the hub of international companies and manufacturing in Latin American, it struggles with the problems that poverty propagates: drug trafficking, homelessness, abandoned children, unwed mothers, child abuse, hunger, poor medical care and a public school system that is inadequate.
Father Leonel Corbeil, a Canadian priest working in one of the poorer neighborhoods in São Paulo approaches a group of Canadian women—all friends—and asks for their help in setting up a home for abandoned babies. The wife of the Canadian Consul General, Mrs. Andrea Holton and the wife of the Vice-Consul, Mrs. Helen Gaynor hear the call and found an organization which did and continues to do charitable work and fund-raising until today—46 years later. They called their “club” The Canadian Women’s Society. Through the years the club has become more and more international with members from over 30 countries and hence the name was officially changed in 2002 to The Canadian International Women’s Society.
For over 20 years, the CIWS supported a private orphanage which housed 15-20 children. All salaries, food, health care, educational needs, rent, as well as love and affection was provided by the members of the Canadian Women's Society. No one knows exactly just how many children were saved from a life of despair due to the efforts of the club. In 1984, this orphanage was appropriated by the Brazilian municipal government and became a part of the governmental system.
At that time, the CIWS was approached by another group –located in another very poor area of the city—to help support a community center. The leader of this project was Sister Natalina a native of Italy. She had been given a piece of land in the middle of a very crowded and poor neighborhood and her dream was to build a center where all could go for help. She planned classes, recreation, education, health care—everything to improve the life and working conditions of the people in this area. The CIWS became involved and made monthly donations to Sister Natalina. When the executive committee found how dedicated Sister Natalina was to this project and discovered how much this one center could change the entire atmosphere of this neighborhood, the board decided to concentrate our fund-raising efforts to help her see the project through to completion.
There is no doubt that the community center has become a haven for all of those in the area. It has improved their quality of life in ways too numerous to count. It continues to this day to expand its opportunities and reach out to more and more people. The Canadian International Society is pleased to have been able to make a lasting contribution to the people of Jardim São Luis in São Paulo.