Brazil May Have the Answers to Many Global Ecological and Social Ills

Curitiba, an example to the world Brazil is a fantastic country, in an amazing part of the world. For many years I have been intrigued by this corner of the world; not just Brazil, but the entire Latin American sub continent. Back in Ireland during the “tiger years”, those few of us who cared about what were then still “unpopular” issues like the environment, social justice and the idea of pursuing a sane economic model that wouldn’t cost the earth, we looked toward what was going on here and drew inspiration.

From afar, it seemed that something special was happening. That after such a long and disgusting period subjected to outer economic and political interference, more and more of the peoples of the “New World” were growing in confidence, finally standing up for themselves, and starting to turn their dreams into the lived reality.

It seemed that there was a radical creativity coming from Brazil in particular. New ways of thinking and doing things, with many processes based on deep and very inclusive communication systems. Slowly, these ideas were making their way Northward, from the “Global South” to Europe and Ireland.

And it was not just in one specific area, it was in many different areas of life. Through my own areas of interest, first as a social and political activist, I heard about the amazing work of Augusto Boal and his theatre / activist technique “Theatre of the Oppressed”.

After that, it was the experiments coming from Porto Alegre; the World Social Forum. This being the opening of a new space and process to peoples of the world to discuss what sort of world they wished to live in. Then lastly as an architect working in ecology, it was hearing about a place referred to as the “Greenest city on Earth”, Curitiba.

World respected ecologists, such as Bill Mc Kibben were pointing to the city and claiming it to be a “Global Model For Development”. Was it really as amazing as it was claimed? That’s why I’m here, its my home now, I’m still investigating…

As the world enters times of deeper ecological and social crisis, many people like myself feel that much of the solutions to these huge problems we are facing will be found in places like Brazil.

Brazil is a huge country, twice the landmass of India, and it has made huge positive steps in recent years. It has both shocked the old guard and challenged old accepted views of what “development” means. Its economy has become very well respected, now the 5th largest on the planet, earning its letter “B” in the nicely named global economic block; BRICS.

More importantly though, is how Brazil used its new found wealth. It chose to redistribute it more fairly, in an attempt to make a more just and inclusive society. There are not many other regions in the world who can claim to have lifted nearly 40 million people out of poverty in the same amount of time.

Also during these last few years, it seems the global tables have turned. Much of the “Old world” is now experiencing a terrible economic crisis and things in the land of the, not nearly as nicely named economic block, “PIGS” seem to just go from bad to worse.

I lived for 7 years in Barcelona, when I arrived the trend was Latinos coming to Europe to seek work and a better life. Now its the reverse, with a youth unemployment rate in Spain of nearly 60%, many Latinos are returning home and many Europeans have packed their bags and gone with them.

Despite the incredible amount of positive developments of recent years, the country has a long way yet to go. There is still a long journey to sort the old and nasty tensions: political corruption, crime, drugs, gangs, inequality, racism, lack of indigenous rights, deep class division and mistrust… Yes its come a long way, but it will take a lot more vision, creativity, time, effort and work to get Brazil to where it could be.

So, the cup is here. But, have you heard that there has been much anger in Brazil over the last few months due to the arrival of the world’s greatest sporting event? Perhaps you have seen the massive protests that happened all over the country in June last year; from hundreds to thousands to millions in the streets, weeks of demonstrations, anger, confrontations with the police, overturned cars, buildings taken over, streets in flames…

Also police baton charges, tear gas, rubber bullets, lots of injuries, even deaths… Nasty! We even saw the current Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, express support for the protests. She herself was a Marxist urban guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured for protesting the military dictatorship (1967-1985). But, despite her support, her popularity rating has come crashing down, from 57% to 30%.

The important question is; Why all the anger? More and more people simply feel that FIFA are not arriving with their circus for the benefit of the normal people of the country, but for the 1% who will benefit massively from the games. People are angry that the government have paid out nearly twice the original bill, when the country desperately needs a decent infrastructure; schools, hospitals, a proper public transport system…

It was actually a small rise in the cost of a transport ticket in São Paulo that sparked the massive protests last year. By the way, the people won that battle, the fare stayed the same, this is an important fact. Sometimes when you fight, you do win.

There has also been global indignation at the horrific stories and images coming from the evictions of the favelas, the squatter communities that exist all over the country where the poorest of Brazil’s poor live. Lastly are the deeply disturbing images of what can only be described as ethnic cleansing of the poor by the infamous BOPE, the military police, in Rio.

It seems the majority of Brazilians don’t think that FIFA’s World Cup is here to improve the lives of ALL. In both the lead up to and during the Cup, people will complain and protest. Brazil is a football mad country, many politicians were hoping that once the games started that locals would simply focus on how well the host country does.

In a recent online poll in Brazil, only 22 percent of people in the country are even going to root for Brazil during the World Cup. I mean, the amount of dissatisfaction with what FIFA has done in conjunction with the Workers’ Party is reaching historic heights.

The problem is that first Lula and then Dilma told the country very explicitly that the World Cup was not just going to be a soccer tournament; it was going to walk hand in hand with even more developments, more money, more employment, more opportunity for people.

And when folks see the gap between the promises for the World Cup and the actuality of what it’s bringing, and in the context of actually much smaller growth rates in the country than existed even three years ago, that’s what’s really fueling a great deal of the discontent, because when you see a stadium being built for $500 million, and there’s no food on the table, there’s no healthcare, and education has gotten, by many measures, worse, then it breeds the kind of anger that you’re seeing right now.

The Workers’ Party is using both carrots and sticks as a way to quell the protests. Like, they are telling the folks in both the homeless and Landless Workers’ Movements – they’re the folks doing the occupation next to the stadium – that they’ll talk to them about maybe using that empty lot to build more public housing, while at the same time also sending in the police with the rubber bullets, with the tear gas, and also trying to pass legislation to make demonstrating a crime akin to terrorism.

Possibly the greatest footballer of all time, Pelé, is even quoted as saying: “It’s clear that politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot, and in some cases was more than it should have been. … Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it. That’s clear.”

People will complain and protest and hopefully through these actions, positive change will come to Brazil. Some groups have called for a full boycott of the event, while some will march and perhaps riot behind the #NãoVaiTerCopa (There will not be a cup) banner which could lead to very ugly scenes and responses from the Brazilian police.

But some groups recognize that the cup is going to happen and with that, are trying to use the event as a tool to make real positive change, all be it on a small scale. I am supporting and participating with a great initiative from one such group in my hometown: #Cheerforpeace, its symbol is the redefined three fingered peace sign you can see below.

While there is much to be against, we are putting our energy and creativity into being FOR things; an idea of a peaceful state or way of being, based on three interconnected fundamental core principles: Social – Environmental – Economic

The campaign has been developed by Brazilian students and it has an open co-creative philosophy, thereby trying to evolve as different people get involved with the project. It attempts to create a dialogue about the real impact of the World Cup and to try to make steps toward the whole World Cup process being more ecologically and socially just. A fundraising campaign has been set up and the money will be used to assist in three areas, each relating to one of the core principles:

Trees planted by SOS Mata Atlântica, an NGO that plants them in the devastated Atlantic Rainforest, they are monitored for 5 years and certified for optimal survival rates.

Although this campaign does not have the solutions to all the big problems facing Brazil, what it is doing, is promoting a vision of sustainable and socially just change and using this moment to demonstrate that vision through action, while the world looks on over the next few weeks. All of us involved come from a wide span of backgrounds, but we find common ground in this project and all agree that the holistic approach is the only choice we have.

The three pillars of the campaign do not stand alone. Each one supports and reinforces the other two, all are mutually interdependent. The true richness and power of things resulting from the interaction and overlapping of each. In finishing off this article I will briefly explore each of the pillars in more detail:

The Environmental

The overall environmental cost of this World Cup, in terms of CO2 emissions generated, will make it the highest for any sporting event, ever. With an estimated 3.1 million Brazilians and 600,000 foreign travelers coming to watch the games and having to travel great distances between games by airplane, it will be TWICE that of the last World Cup, the 2010 South African Cup.

That Cup was one of the biggest environmental impacts of any sporting event in history, generating 2.75m tonnes of carbon emissions. That event had a carbon footprint eight times that of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Our response is that part of the money raised will go to planting trees in the devastated Atlantic Rainforest, all along the coast of Brazil. These plantations will go to somewhat offset the massive levels of CO2 emissions generated by the cup. The trees will be planted by SOS Mata Atlântica, an NGO going since 1985, the plants will be monitored for 5 years and certified for optimal survival rates.

The #CheerForPeace Brazil Jerseys that will be given to the underprivileged Youth in Brazil are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

The campaign is being supported by and supporting back the e-book Jabujicaba, financial contributors have various options they wish to donate to #CheerForPeace, one option includes receiving a copy of the e-book:

Which is about immersing yourself in the novel, falling in love with the rainforest, and engaging in action to help save it. A portion of the proceeds from the e-book go to the World Land Trust towards forest conservation.

We are also setting up a big event on Sunday 15th of June, rather than having the normal type of food and drink party of hotdogs and Soft drinks, we will be offering more healthy options using organic fruit and veg sourced locally from suppliers in the city.

The Economic

Obviously the base of the quality of life in Brazil, a country of massive extremes, is one of economic well being. There is huge wealth here, huge resources and lots of money going around. But, like this World Cup, it does not “trickle down” to all in society. So having views on that is one thing, but moving from views to action is the next step. Testing those views and trying to create moments, spaces and processes for change, this is the challenge to which #CheerForPeace has thrown itself into.

The fundraising drive was set up, 10,000 US dollars was the hoped for goal. We have asked people coming here to “give a little back” to those that wont benefit in any way from the millions who visit. We are also asking people outside to assist, basic charity. Its quite normal for people in the richer “North” or “First World” to assist the poorer “South” or “Developing World”, but is it as normal for the richer ones in the “South” to help their own brothers and sisters?

Turns out, not so much. We hope this campaign challenges such norms in the hope that Brazilians do a little more to help themselves. Obviously simply giving money wont solve all the problems, unfortunately for many in richer countries it is felt that all problems can be solved by simply “throwing a little cash back”.

The fundraising campaign kicks off a dialogue, it forces people to stop for a moment to consider the argument and maybe give something. If everyone just gave a fiver, there would be a lot of trees being planted and food being eaten, that might not happen otherwise.

The second chunk of money donated to the campaign goes to donating meals to Brazilian communities in need. This is not restricted to Curitiba but passed onto groups around Brazil through the networks that the campaign supports and works with.

We always try to demonstrate best practice, to highlight sustainable practices and groups in the city. So rather than simply go for a cheaper option; lowest quality food from giant supermarket chain, we have approached Curitiba’s wonderful Municipal Market. Some of their Organics sector kindly donated food for next Sundays event. Again the mutual support, the mixing of the pillars. This also tries to promote stronger local economies and might lead to better opportunities for employment for people in the future as well as a more resilient city.

The Social

The basic strength of the World Cup is that it is something which brings the world together, for a brief moment, we are one. Those that travel, shout, roar, sing and cry along with their teams. The footballers who go out and play. The ones at home also shouting, roaring and crying. Even those whose team didn’t make it, but tune in avidly and share in the highs and lows just the same.

At the end of the day we are social animals and being together is what we do. #CheerForPeace recognizes this and works with it to the maximum: It is allowing different people to come together and to try to make a difference. It is bringing together different groups of people and bringing those people to different places. For some, that even means going far beyond the limits of their normal comfort zone. This applies to both foreigners and Brazilians alike, as for many it will be the first time in their lives entering the zones where their poorer neighbors live, the shanty town, the favela.

Some urbanists claim that as world trends continue, soon 1 in 4 people living on the planet will be living in such a settlement and that they are not “falling into poverty”, as is often the claim, but actually getting out of poverty by the fastest means possible. While many in the “West” or “North”, or even Brazil for that matter, view the favela in a totally negative light; a place of drugs, gangs, murder, crime, violence etc…

Incredible things are also happening here, some of the most interesting and exciting ideas are coming from such worlds, especially in terms of design, recycling, micro business, women’s rights, grassroots political activism.. There is much for the world to learn yet. (For more on that I’d direct you to the research of Stewart Brand and Robert Neuwirth)

Personally, I feel the idea of connection to be the key to all things; all problems, all solutions. Once we are thrown together, we adapt and learn. Normally it is the basic fear of “the other” that puts up the walls of distrust, jealousy, even hate, which lead to many of society’s rotten ills like racism and sectarianism. For me, as a newly arrived English speaking Irish immigrant to Curitiba, just another “Gringo” to the Brazilians, #CheerForPeace has allowed me to connect to something, to make friends, to share ideas and dreams, to learn a lot quickly, to end up in places I might not have ever ended up… and for all of that I am thankful. Hopefully my input will help.

The history of the project came from a Brazilian women, a Curitibana, who moved to Canada. Seeing the power of football, the global game, but being aware of the major differences between the two countries, she decided to make a difference. She collected up old football jerseys in Canada and packed them into her suitcase when she came home, she started to distribute these to the poorest communities in Curitiba and the state of Paraná.

Then she started organizing trips with the students of Fanshawe College, where she worked in Canada, back to her hometown in Brazil. So Canadian youngsters came to Brazil and saw a very different reality from what they left behind. They donated the jerseys, played football games with their new Brazilian friends and generally got to find out about each other and each others worlds. A few years later, this exchange had grown into the NGO Football for Kids Foundation.

Some time back more Canadian students did some charity work and got very nice red football jerseys sponsored for kids in the largest Favela in Brazil, Rocinha. They traveled there and learned about the reality and challenges of life there. Later in Curitiba there was another great team of architecture students who came to a place in the city that doubles up as a kids zone and food distribution point for a favela, there they designed and built a colorful lively play zone for the kids in what had been previously a drab space, they also gave out a few tops. You can see the look of joy on the face of one of the young kids below.

From these great initiatives and through connections to Brazilian students here in Curitiba #CheerForPeace was born and in a few days time, next Sunday, will be our first major event. The day before the first World Cup game in the city we will go to the cities most central favela Vila Torres for a peoples World Cup, its an open event, all are welcome and there will be football games, free food, art, games… a day of celebration for the community that can see the stadium but have no other means to feel part of the World Cup party.

So, these little events in themselves are not going to change the world. But, what they are doing, is creating small steps toward more individuals, more people, more communities breaking down the barriers that separate them. Each learning from the other, confronting the wrongs, injustices and reasons of poverty, building mutual understanding, finding shared dreams and visions, exchanging skills, different views and wisdom, understanding ideas of global solidarity…

These little events wont change the world, but they are laying the foundations for movements that will.

Opera Comes to Favela

An amazing day happened on Sunday 15th of June 2014 in Vila Torres, Curitiba, the day before the city saw its first of four World Cup games. Vila Torres is the most central and oldest of the many underprivileged Favelas of the city. Its a tough existence here, people with next to nothing do what they can, despite all the challenges that face them on a day to day existence.

Like all of the city and the country, people love their football. But unlike the more well to do parts of society, the community here had no means to get in on the excitement of the World Cup. So the Brazilian student led movement #CheerForPeace decided to change that, to try to bring a little bit of the magic here too.

What unfolded was weeks of building a movement, working with the community and pulling together whatever was available or possible to make a truly special day for all the football loving fans there. Huge thanks to all who supported, donated, came and shared in the day, hopefully all enjoyed the event.

This was just the first of many more events. Huge respect must be given to the extraordinary women behind the local school, the Organização de Desenvolvimento do Potencial Humano (ODPH): Valdimê, Kauann and all the gang… With leadership, strength and love like these remarkably strong and resilient women have, the future will indeed be feminine!

The event was a great success, about 200 kids came, played, made juices from the peddle powered bike machine / juice maker, ate organic vegan food, played football, danced, got their faces painted… And a whole lot more.

Canadian students from Alberta and their teacher Nick arrived and donated a whole load of green tops, boots and footballs. Also a coach from the local football ground Paraná FC kindly came and gave a free training class to anyone who wanted, some great little players in the barrio, both boys and girls.

Equating healthy eating with a party… that’s a first for Vila Torres. A “Great Event with Great Food” (not Junk food) provided generously by the Organic Growers Association of the Mercado Municipal De Curitiba – ASCESME. Special thanks to the amazing chef Igor Oliveira and the man responsible for sorting all the great organic food for the event: Sebastião Martins Coelho. Although some kids were not too happy, maybe preferring Cola and hot dogs, hopefully the event opened a wider debate about healthy eating, local markets and wider issues of a healthier local economy.

Although word was sent to a host of both local and international media, many of which said they would come to report the event in the favela, only one did come to cover the story. Subsequently there has been no reports of any the local or international media. The only communications with the wider world about the goings on, coming from a few brief blog reports by some small groups and individuals. The following day Irish radio did cover the story for 5 minutes on RTE’s Joe Duffy show Liveline.

The unprecedented #CheerForPeace Give&Game Fan Fest for the Rest in Vila Torres, Curitiba closed on a high-note withe beautiful Opera from English-Brazilian artist Penelope belting out a few tunes, Albert hall it might not be, but all there felt it was a perfect end to a very special day.


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