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Brazil becomes antipoverty showcase

The country's Bolsa Familia program – which pays poor mothers to keep their children in school and follow healthcare rules – is reducing poverty.

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Boost: Maria Joelma da Silva (c.) used state subsidies to build a cistern and start a business selling crops and honey.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor

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In the arid, impoverished expanse of northeast Brazil, Cumaru is the town no one's ever heard of. And once you get here, Maria Joelma da Silva's house is a 20-minute ride beyond where the paved road ends.

Ms. da Silva gets few guests.

Yet in August, officials from Angola, Ghana, the African Union, and the African Development Bank – here to study Brazil's social programs – stood in da Silva's yard gleaning lessons from the small but productive garden that is flourishing where cacti once dominated.

"Everyone talks about how we can't do anything right in the northeast, but if these people came here from so far away, we have to be doing something important in the countryside," says da Silva, who has used government subsidies and help from a nonprofit to build a cistern and start a small business selling honey and other crops. Today, she is part of a transformation under way among Brazil's underclass.

Although the global financial crisis is taking its toll on Brazil, the country's economy has boomed in the past five years, and the poor have risen with the swell. Lower inflation and easier access to credit – along with a higher minimum wage – have created a new class of consumers who have kept the economy growing. And with the world's largest conditional welfare program for the poor, and a slew of complementary local, state, and federal initiatives that continue to target the poor – a cornerstone of the presidency of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – many Brazilians are feeling economic stability as they have never before.

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