Maria Teresa Leal of COOPA-ROCA (courtesy Marcos Pinto)

The Christian Science Monitor newspaper has a great section on its web site called People Making a Difference. It features – funnily enough – people who make a difference.

They can be crusading Thai human rights workers, former African models building orphanages in Liberia, or Haitians running education programs in rural slums. In short, anyone doing good.

I wrote this piece for this week’s paper about Maria Teresa Leal and COOPA-ROCA, the seamstresses cooperative based in the Rio favela of Rocinha.

I’ve known Leal for years and written about her many times, first for the Scotland on Sunday back at the turn of the decade and then here for the Monitor in 2001, amongst others. Some of these pieces can be found on the COOPA-ROCA web site.

Some hard core elements in US journalism say journalists shouldn’t become too friendly with their sources and I agree – if you’re covering those source on a daily basis. But as a correspondent, my relationship with sources is more intermittent and more informal and I consider Leal a close friend.

When you arrive alone in a new country it is hard to meet new people and one of the best ways is through work. I wrote about Tete, as everyone calls her, after hearing of her project in the favela and we became friends.

I always take the opportunity to write about her and COOPA-ROCA, which helps poor and disadvantaged women in one of Rio’s largest shanties, because I think it is worthy. I’ll write a short piece on them for Monocle magazine in the coming weeks.

Leal has made a huge difference to the lives of many people in Rocinha, both financially and psychologically. Many of the women told me they feel much more confident and assured because they have real jobs, with real responsibilities and real salaries. They can work from home, and thus take care of their kids, and because it is piece work, they can set their own pace.

I can’t find a specific page for the People Making a Difference section but the stories come up if you put PMAD into the search box at the Monitor website.