Projeto Axé, Centro de Defesa e Proteção a Crianças e a Adolescentes (Centre for the Defense and Protection of Children and Adolescents), was founded in 1990 to address the devastating situation of the street children of Salvador, Brazil. It was brought into being through the combined efforts of the Italian organization Terra Nuova and Brazil's Movimento Nacional de Meninos de Rua (National Movement for Street Children). Axé takes its name from the Yoruba-derived word axé, which refers to the quintessence of the ethos of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion practiced primarily by the black residents of northeastern Brazil. Although it is difficult to translate precisely the meaning of axé into English, it generally refers to the energy found at the origin of all things, the life source, the power to make things happen. Great leaders have axé, but so can more humble members of society, including street children.
Axé is organized into several units through which it seeks to fulfill its mission to assist the approximately one thousand children it serves by helping them to experience themselves as individuals with rights and dreams worthy of respect by others. At the Centro de Assistência Tecnica e de Formação de Recursos Humanos (Technical Assistance and Human Resources Formation Center), Axé prepares educators to work with the children by training them in its unique approach to education. At the Defesa de Direitos (Defense of Rights), highly trained specialists serve as advocates for the children's civil rights. At the Centro de Educação para a Saúde (Health Education Center), Axé provides health care and education for the children. At the Programa de Apoio à Familia e à Juventude (Family, Youth, and Community Support), it offers counseling and other social services for the children and their families. In addition to these services, Axé also offers the children a variety of cultural programs in which to participate.
In fact, Axé takes art as its foundation, its means of social change: the abuse, poverty, and desperation of the street children's lives do not make creativity and culture superfluous to them. The philosophy of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogia do oprimido (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and Pedagogia da esperança (The Pedagogy of Hope) provided the inspiration for Axé's "pedagogy of desire," a philosophy of self-reliance, not charity, that involves the cultivation of ethics through aesthetics with the purpose of giving back to the children their dignity and equipping them with the tools they need to positively transform their lives. Axé thus focuses on what the children know and enjoy—music, dance, fashion—rather than assuming what they need. In this regard, it has been guided by the belief that artmaking is essentially a spiritual activity through which human beings can examine the experience, quality, and meaning of their lives.
The educators at Axé bring this mission literally to the streets, because this is where the children are. In order to join Axé, the children must agree to return home and attend school. In return, they are given three meals a day, access to health care and counseling, and the choice to participate in one of Axé's cultural units, where they have the stabilizing opportunity to earn an income for their participation that will replace the money they manage to get from their life on the street. These units, among many others, include Bandaxé, a percussion group; Canteiro dos Desejos (Flowerbed of Desires), which offers programs for children between the ages of five and eleven; Casa de Somes (House of Sounds) (formerly Casa de Cultura [House of Culture]), which organizes a variety of cultural activities; Opaxé, which focuses on papermaking; Modaxé, dedicated to fashion design; and Stampaxé, devoted to printing and papermaking.