Brazil's one-woman adoption agency
To some she is a saint, while others wonder how a mom in one of Brazil’s poorest regions can feed so many mouths, including her own, with no fewer than 50 children living with her.
Flordelis Dos Santos de Souza has 50 children, 46 of whom are adopted, so it makes a long list. And each one has their own story.
Rayane was found in a trash can when she was just 15 days old.
Carlos was a drug dealer. Now he is a pastor.
Kelly, 25, worked as a prostitute before her new mother took her off the streets.
Lucas became deaf and mute after being beaten by his biological parents.
Twin sisters Anabelle and Isabelle were abandoned by their mother, who handed them over to Flordelis the day after they were born.
When Flordelis found these kids on the street, some of them were as neglected as a lost doll. Their new mother took them in, cared for them, dressed them, but most importantly she gave them love, which is the best healer for their wounds of the past.
Flordelis herself comes from the favelas – the poor and criminal districts of Brazilian cities.
Local gangsters often threatened to kill her, but many avoid tangling with the Lady. They know if a child gets to her house, she or he will be well protected here.
Flordelis says she is not afraid to come up to a child with a gun. “I would tell him – put down your gun! I want to be your mother!”
She remembers that, “with some of my children, we had months and months of fights. About drugs, for example. I teach them – if you want respect, you should make people respect you!”
49-year-old Flordelis says it is faith in God which drives her to take in more and more kids.
Every day, six kilos of rice and 200 loaves of bread are eaten in this house.
To earn money for her kids’ living and education, Flordelis and her husband hold Baptist masses.
Still, putting food on the table is just one of the problems the family faces.
For many in Brazil Flordelis is no Mother Theresa. Rather, they see her as a swindler, as none of the kids she shelters is officially adopted.
Several years ago, one biological parent sued her and won the case.
“I found a child named Bea in a hospital with broken legs: his father had twisted them,” recalls Flordelis. “Doctors said the boy would never walk again, but I made him undergo treatment and he began to walk. His father obtained court permission to get him back. I gave the child away and ten days later he was killed by his father.”
After this case Flordelis promised never to give away any of her children and to keep the door open.
One day, 37 kids knocked and asked if she could be their mother.
“My mother is great, she has big heart! There’s no mother like her in Brazil, in the Americas!” boasts Kelly.
Children say sometimes Flordelis is strict, sometimes not. But she worries about them a lot because they are so many.
Flordelis agrees that “Like any mother, I may be tough with my children or punish them, but I'll never allow anybody else to speak badly of them. The way of life they had and the way their biological parents treated them – they could have become the worst people in the world! But they haven’t! They’re better than many other children who grew up in full families!”
Despite the songs they sing together, the future remains uncertain for this extended family, because most of the things surrounding them, even the piano needed for the masses, is rented.
Flordelis is adamant that one day her children have a house of their own. Only then does she believe that her mission will end.