Remembering Nanko Van Buuren

“The children of the favelas have lost a father.”

Street Child United remembers, cialis Nanko Van Buuren, who worked tirelessly for marginalised young people in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro for 25 years until his death on 14 February.

Nanko 10

A few years ago, as Street Child United was looking for a partner in Rio, Joe Hewitt said he had just spent the afternoon weaving through the narrow alleyways of a favela on the back of a motorbike, and sharing many beers with a tall, charismatic Dutchman who seemed to know everyone and command total respect. The man was Nanko van Buuren, who has died aged 63.

Nanko was an extraordinary man whose impact on the lives of literally thousands of young people in Rio is hard to put into words. Nanko, a former psychiatrist for the World Health Organisation, arrived in Brazil in the 1980s to look into the murders of street children. He paid for the funerals of the eight children who were killed as they slept outside the Candelaria church in July 1993, and he helped many of the survivors to go on with their lives.

He never went back.

Fired by the injustice that consigned Brazil’s poor to living in hopeless circumstances on the fringes, Nanko worked for more than 25 years with his IBISS foundation to improve the opportunities and conditions of those in favela communities; IBISS provided health, sports, cultural and social programmes that were a lifeline.

Indeed, IBISS saved many lives, rescuing at least 4,500 young people from the violent drugs trade that has blighted poorer areas. This is not to overstate the reality: since Nanko’s death, so many people in Rio have written grateful tributes to him saying, ‘you gave me life’, or ‘you saved me from death, or ‘pai (father), who gave me life’.

Nanko warmly welcomed visitors and volunteers into a world normally beyond the reach of outsiders, offering convivial hospitality and shrewd insight, always big-hearted, humane and gentle – never judging. It was deeply affecting to see how loved Nanko was by people of all ages in the favelas where IBISS worked – and how he loved them back. You sensed he wanted you to glimpse this strong bond because it was rooted in honesty and trust that were unique.

Together with Favela Street founder Philip Veldhuis, Nanko worked closely with Joe Hewitt and Elisa Lamego to maximise the benefits of taking part in the Street Child World Cup for the girls’ team and for other young people in their communities.

On his death, Jessica Medeiros, from the girls’ team, commented: “The children of the favelas have lost a father.” But in young people like her, Nanko leaves a living, social legacy.

Nanko, thank you for everything. It was an absolute privilege to know you.

Written by Jo Griffin
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