Thursday, May 21, 2009

Building on Experience

After leaving Iguazu Falls, I visited some friends in Santa Fe last week for my first stop in Argentina on the slow cross-continent trek to Chile. A friend that I met last time I passed through Santa Fe invited me to visit the school where she works and speak with the class about some of my experiences since beginning the trip. She was discussing the ideas of micro enterprise and sustainability, so I felt that it was appropriate to share what I learned on the permaculture site in Brazil.

The school is called La Cecilia - La Nueva Cultura (The New Culture), and it is a naturalist school with a significantly different philosophy of learning than any other I have encountered. Students are able to choose what they want to learn about and how they spend their time. The campus also has a small organic garden, so many of the permaculture ideas that I learned while at Sitio São Francisco in Brazil were suprisingly applicable to this completely different setting.

Showing pictures from the site to one of the classes

If you understand Spanish, you can read more about the school on their website. Two students interested in journalism pulled me aside for an interview (no, I didn't sign any autographs, though they did compare me to a couple of celebrities), and a film student took video. You can see the video from the interview on the school's blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Unique Brazilian Experience

A few weeks have passed since I last posted to the blog, and I think the reason I haven't been able to post an update on the Carapicuíba project is because I am still trying to process all that happened. I was thrust into the experience by circumstance, and each day the experience seemed to direct and shape itself. A brief overview might help explain:

It began at the permaculture site, an incredible experience in itself, and continued in São Paulo where we were supposed to be for only two days. After five days I was finally able to go back to the site just to gather my things and return to the city because the opportunity to collaborate on the project in Carapicuíba presented itself. The idea was to renovate a public park that was in terrible condition using ideas from permaculture, Felipe's specialty. The Secretary of Education of Carapicuíba initiated the project as part of establishing an open university. What does 'open university' mean? Well, I don't know exactly, but I think it is similar to community colleges in the states where a wide variety of courses in the arts can be offered alongside mathematics, sciences and the usual.

The group that worked on the project consisted of Felipe, an engineer and the owner of Sítio São Francisco, and three international architecture students that Felipe knew - one from France and two from Spain. After many late nights developing the idea for the project and several meetings with local authorities, the Prefeitura of Carapicuíba (basically the mayor of the city) confirmed our trip to the capital of the country to meet with people from the Ministry of Education.

Presenting the basics of permaculture -
on the screen is the Flower of Permaculture

As the project stood after our trip to Brasilia, things were still up in the air as to what extent the project was going to be supported by federal funds. Basically we ran up against the stifling power of bureaucracy, but as Felipe pointed out, we were able to spread the idea of permaculture to some federal bureaucrats who were quite interested in the ideas, which is a small success in its own right. Unfortunately, they weren't able to provide the kind of support that we were hoping to receive for this sort of unique project.

Late nights developing the idea for the project.

One of the first presentations about the project was made
to the Secretary of Education of Carapicuíba.

The next step was to convince the Prefeitura
of Carapicuíba to back the project.

From there we took a road trip to Brasilia.
Here the group is working hard on our lunch break...
well, the girls are working hard.

Our final meeting in Brasilia.

I think this experience ranks at the top of my list of frustrating experiences. By the time we arrived in Brasilia and encountered the bureaucracy, I was already accustomed to not understanding and being frustrated. For almost an entire month I tagged along while the other four people in the group discussed the project and daily logistical plans in Portuguese. I never completely understood what was going on at any given moment. All the frustration, though, forced me evaluate the situation and the experience in a different way, and it ultimately led me to significantly increase my already immense propensity for patience. It also provided the necessary atmosphere and drive to learn Portuguese. If the group had spoke English the whole time, I never would have picked up the amount of Portuguese that I did. I suppose the challenge is what it was all about in the first place, and I certainly encountered a unique challenge during my time in Brazil.

My goal all along has been to help out in any way I can, but without the ability to communicate effectively it is difficult to establish what that means. In the end, I was able provide a few contributions to the effort. For one, I gave my opinion on the presentation they were giving and how to direct that more towards each different person/group that they presented to. With all the experience I have giving presentations in college, I feel like I had a few worthwhile tips for them. It even helped that I didn't understand the project in detail due to the language barrier because it lent a certain objectivity to my observations. At the beginning of the project, they asked me to document the process for them, so one of my more tangible contributions was in the form of raw video and pictures from the development of the project and the road trip to Brasilia. I personally won't be able to use much of the video due to my lack of translating abilities in Portuguese, but at least now they have a visual record of the process that they can perhaps use in the future.

So, the Brazil leg of the journey has come to a close, and I am slowly making my way West across the continent to Chile to spend a few weeks working in Valparaíso before starting the journey North. Bye bye Brazil - I will miss your zest and contagious energy. Muito obrigado to all the incredible people who helped light the way. Nunca posso olvidar, e com certeza vou voltar algum dia. Até logo!

Where I Am and Where I've Been