Shaun and Ellie Lacey are founders of the Happy Childhood Shelter, which they named after coming across the Aldeia da Infancia Feliz – the Happy Childhood Village – near a home they bought in Brazil, about two hours’ drive north of Rio de Janeiro.
‘It’s a beautiful place, but behind the resort it’s a very poor area,’ said Mrs Lacey, who was brought up in the southern part of the country.
On discovering the orphanage the couple decided to do something to help and set up the Guernsey charity to raise money to improve the facilities for the children who live there.
The youngsters have been exposed to maltreatment, neglect and domestic violence, in many cases inflicted by members of their own family.
‘It’s beyond most people’s comprehension that parents and relatives can treat children as badly as they do,’ said Mr Lacey.
The charity’s first event was a 24-hour spinathon which raised over £1,000, enabling Mr and Mrs Lacey to visit the orphanage and provide a new industrial washing machine, fans, and a new gate to replace an old and broken one.
‘We bought some new equipment for the orphanage but I guess this was like putting on a sticking plaster,’ said Mr Lacey.
‘We wanted to do something longer term and help with the infrastructure of the whole place and make sure it was sustainable.
‘There are other churches and local charities that have been giving them some food, but we have been giving them some hope for the future.’
Their primary focus so far has been on the children’s living accommodation, which comprises two houses on the site.
One of these now has new beds and new tiled flooring.
New septic tanks have been installed, as well, since previously liquid waste was not disposed of properly. A large cistern has also been repaired to help with the supply of fresh water.
Mrs Lacey said that since the start of the pandemic there had been a rise in the number of young children arriving at the orphanage.
‘The stress caused by the confinement and economic situation the country is creating the ideal conditions for a rise in children’s experience of abuse and neglect,’ she said.
Financial hardship, poverty and food insecurity are all related to childhood maltreatment, which are indirectly elevated by the pandemic’s effects on the country’s economy.
‘For this reason, we are working hard to improve the conditions at the orphanage so we can accommodate these children, feed them, give them care, education and emotional support.’
The couple attend Shiloh Church, which has helped them to organise a variety of fundraising events.
They hope to visit the orphanage again later this year, if travel restrictions allow.