Amazon – Lungs of Earth

Amazon – Lungs of Earth

The small indigenous girl with dark eyes, holding a bright green bird in her left hand catches my eye every day that I pass through the center of São Paulo. I always take a long glimpse at her probing, vulnerable expression. The figure of this girl is stenciled on the side of a high-rise building downtown. The stencil is the largest work of stencil art in the world. Below the figure of the girl an inscription reads: 'Achei o último Igarapé no fundo do meu coração… e nele lavei minha alma.' Even before I could decipher the inscription's meaning I sensed from the girls expression, from her grasp on the bird, from her extended hand – that this artistic creation was a cry for help.

Slowly the words of the inscription came into my vocabulary and now I understand: 'I found the last stream in the depths of my heart and in it I cleansed my soul.' The artist Simone Sapienza Siss created this stencil based on a photo of a girl from the Munduruku Tribe of the Tapajós River region in the Amazon. The Tapajós river is the largest tributary of the Amazon and one of the last living tributaries of the Amazon. Currently there is movement to create a hydroelectric dam on the Tapajós River, which would damage the ecosystem and cause enormous harm to the indigenous people living along the river.

Siss's awe-inspiring art is a call for help and awareness around the dangers of the potential dam.

Since arriving in Brasil, Marcelo and I have gradually grown our awareness of difficulties faced by the indigenous and how their fate is influenced by the actions of people and governments around the world who consume products from the Amazon. In April a man named Benedito Prezia lead a morning-long reflection for all of the members of our Maryknoll organization here in São Paulo. Benedito has dedicated his 40-year career as a writer, researcher, and human rights activist to working with the indigenous of Brasil. Benedito educated us on indigenous spirituality and culture, then described human rights abuses and exploitation suffered by the indigenous historically and into modernity.

Benedito described a belief central to indigenous spirituality: living in harmony with nature is critical- 'if you exploit nature too much, nature fights back or resists.' While businesses and governments come into the forests of Brasil and assess the value of a river based on how many kilowatts of energy can be extracted or the value of land based on how many kilos of mineral wealth can be extracted, indigenous view the land as if it is an extension of their own body, their own organs, their own bloodstream- and they sync their subsistence activities with nature in a way that preserves nature, their bodies and their spirits. Indigenous do not consider themselves 'masters or administrators of the land' but instead as entities living in harmony with the rivers, rocks, plants and animals. Indigenous carefully use products of the forest in a way that protects the forest's ability to regenerate.

A handout provided by Benedito quoted an anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro describing the relationship between indigenous people and the Earth: 'A terra é o corpo dos índios, os índios são parte do corpo da terra. A relação entre terra e corpo é crucial. A separação entre a comunidade e a terra tem como sua face paralela, sua sombra, a separação entre as pessoas e seus corpos…'. This quote translates to: 'The Earth is the body of the indigenous; the indigenous are part of the body of the Earth. The relationship between Earth and body is crucial. The separation of a community and the earth has a parallel face, a shadow, a separation between people and their bodies.'

Brasil is home to 305 different indigenous groups (comprising a population of over 900 million people) who speak 274 different languages. These different communities have diverse ways of thinking, philosophizing, feeling, performing medicine, managing economy, and relating to each other and their surroundings. In stark contrast to a capitalist society, the indigenous live in societies founded on interdependence among community members and interdependence between people and the ecosystems in which they live. Indigenous peoples' deep and vast knowledge of their natural surroundings enable indigenous to draw all of their nutrition, medicine, and well-being from nature while preserving nature's diversity and richness. Benedito noted that in indigenous traditions health is not just the absence of disease, but physically and mentally living in harmony with nature. In indigenous tradition 'virgin forests' are perceived to be where spirits live and hence must be protected.

Brasil is home to 6 biomes. Each biome contains a unique ecosystem that is home to distinct land and water organisms. Organisms within a given biome are adapted to survive in the specific climactic, geologic, and physical characteristics of their specific biome. When these conditions are altered by development, the equilibrium within a given ecosystem is interrupted and species within the ecosystem become extinct. The Amazon rainforest biome of Brasil covers 42.29% of Brasil's national territory (encompassing over 4 million square kilometers). The Amazon contains over 2,500 species of trees and 30 million species of plants. The Amazon is also home to the largest water basin in the world. One hundred and eighty different indigenous groups live within the Amazon. More 'un-contacted' people (people who have never had contact with people outside of their immediate community) live in the Amazon than anywhere else on Earth.

Cerrado is the second largest biome in Brasil (and in South America)- consisting of over 2 million square kilometers. Cerrado is home to 80 groups of indigenous people. Cerrado has been devastated by the growth of monoculture farming- specifically of soy and corn. Mata Atlântica is the biome that borders São Paulo and is the most threatened biome in the world. Due to mining and clear-cutting in order to grow coffee, sugar-cane and other products- Mata Atlântica has been reduced to 22% of it's original size. Mata Atlântica still is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world and because of how it's location helps to regulate the flow of water between surrounding biomes and stability of soil fertility of surrounding biomes.

Over the last 70 years, government and agribusiness have executed many projects in indigenous territories causing the relocation and abandonment of millions of indigenous in confined, inadequate living conditions. Hydroelectric industries have done some of the worst damage- engulfing millions of acres of forrest including people's homes under water. Confronted with money, power and privilege of capitalist entities, indigenous people have had great difficulty defending their land. Development continues to devastate forests, rivers, lakes and plants. Among indigenous who have been relocated to 'Aldeias' or encampments there is an extremely high rate of suicide.

Marcelo recently attended a meeting of CIMI (Conselho Indigenista Missionário)- a group lead by Benedito Prezia of individuals who work to advocate for indigenous rights, especially protection of indigenous land. During the recent meeting the high rate of suicides in indigenous re-location communities was discussed. People in São Paulo's CIMI group offer support to indigenous living in 'aldeias'- re-location communities around São Paulo.

During Benedito's discussion of the history of destruction of indigenous lands in Brasil, he made a point that FUNAI (Brasil's national foundation for protection of indigenous rights) was severely manipulated by the US-backed military regime and this period marked the beginning of significant destruction in the Amazon and other biomes of Brasil. Since then United States multi-national corporations, such as Monsanto and Cargill have continued to devastate land within Brasil's biomes. Benedito encouraged us to raise awareness among our American friends of environmental devastation being caused by American companies. When people improve their individual awareness of where food comes from, they can choose to buy from companies that source their products in an ethical way. If you want to know more about Monsanto's subsidiaries, they have a list on their website ( If you want a more extensive list of what food companies contain Monsanto products – the list is extensive but consistent across various websites including: Any effort to purchase food from companies that source their ingredients fairly makes a difference- even if it is a portion or certain categories of a grocery list rather than the entire grocery list. Choices such as only buying fair-trade coffee or only buying produce grown within the US or only buying corn and soy products grown in the US are day-to-day choices that contribute to preserving our planet.

Another important way individuals can contribute to preservation of the rainforest and all biomes on our planet, is by teaching our children about nature and experiencing nature with our children. Children learn to value nature through positive experiences in nature. When children value and enjoy nature, they grow up with an interest in protecting the natural world. The Natural Learning Initiative out of North Carolina State University in the US put out an excellent summary of benefits found in research done on children's relationship with nature. Among the benefits are: improved creativity, improved physical activity, improved eyesight (due to the development of distance-vision used outdoors), and reduced stress. For more on children and nature:

Besides experiencing nature with children, just reading about animals, plants and other elements of the natural world helps children to develop curiosity and care for living things. Recently little Maëlle has been having a hard time falling asleep at night… she asks for 'one more book… one more book… one more book.' Lately after reading several short children's stories, we've been pulling out our handy 'Tropical Rain Forest' scholastic science reader (a hand me down from another Maryknoll family who recently ended their contract in Brasil). Maëlle loves pointing at the butterflies, monkeys and flowers as we make our way through the book. On several occasions we've made it all the way to the glossary before she's dropped off into a sound sleep!

Here are a few photos from our recent hiking adventure with fellow Maryknoll lay missioners (Claire and Becca) in a state park just north of São Paulo (the park is on the edge of the Mata Atlântica).

If you would like to learn more about the struggle to maintain indigenous rights in the face of agribusiness, the film 'Material' was recommended by Benedito.

‘Água… tastes just like water!’

‘Água… tastes just like water!’

While at orientation for Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Ossining, New York last fall, one of our orientation facilitators told the story of a little girl who had been at orientation with her parents the prior fall. Like our two daughters, this little girl attended a preschool nearby during the day while her parents were in orientation classes. At the preschool, only Spanish was spoken. After the little girl's first day of school her parents asked how her day had gone, and her first reflection was… 'well we had 'agua' today and it tasted just like water!'

Marcelo, the girls and I just arrived back in Brasil after a couple of weeks soaking in the love and familiarity of family back in the US. While at home I feared it might be difficult to again leave familiarity behind and fly 10 hours away from my comfort zone! On our morning drive from the airport outside São Paulo to our apartment, my uncertainty overflowed as tears and words. Then, we got 'home.' Our plants looked healthy… our kind neighbor had been by to water them. Our to-do list was on the fridge reminding me of projects ahead. The girls backpacks hung on the back of our front door- ready for school next week. Life was in motion here, now, in front of me. I took a shower. We made coffee. We walked to the park and the girls zoomed down the slides and played with Brazilian kids in the sand. We walked to exchange our water jug. We bought fruit from a kind man who owns a small fruit stand a block from our home. We exchanged smiles and 'greetings – 'Bom Dia!'s 'Boa Tarde!'s and 'Boa Noite!' With people we encountered throughout the day.

Within a couple days, despite my uncertainty, my spirit and attention settled into the ebb and flow of life in Brasil. As I ventured to two project sites for the first time last week, I was struck by how familiar the work, objectives and activities of the organizations felt. Now that I have completed language school, I am dedicating all of my mission-work to collaborating with Brazilians on projects that promote health in the community. One project is called 'Bem Me Quer' (this translates as: I want to feel good). This project was started by a catholic sister from Ireland 40 years ago on the periphery of São Paulo to provide support, resources, and healthy activities for people living with HIV and AIDS. Organizers and workers at Bem Me Quer do home-visits to patients with HIV and AIDS as well as providing a plethora of classes at the center (yoga, art, skills-development, cooking).

Members of an art-class that was getting started early in my first afternoon on-site kindly welcomed me to participate and talk with them. One man was pulling fruit off the bark of a Jabuticaba tree right next to the building. Jabuticaba is an amazing tree that grows a grape-like fruit directly on the bark. The man pulled off several fruits and shared them with me, warning to only eat the inside and discard the peel. When the art-instructor arrived and had great difficulty opening up the tall cabinet containing all the art supplies, everyone in the class rallied to figure out how to open the cabinet- proposing various techniques and ideas for removing the doors if necessary. Ultimately one of the members managed to turn the lock. As embroidery projects, yard and crochet needles were passed from the cabinet, everyone settled around a table. One woman allowed me to hold her baby for a spell as she got settled in. Everyone was clearly happy to there doing this activity together.

Later I assisted with a home visit (this is what I will primarily be helping with). We entered into a housing project nearby to visit a person living with AIDS. Conditions in the home were stark- cement floors and walls, little light, sparse furniture. The woman I accompanied from the project checked in regarding resources, medications and needs of the person and in closing offered an invitation for the woman to join upcoming activities at the center. HIV and AIDs continue to be prevalent in Brasil, especially among poor communities due to a lack of access to education and resources.

After the visit we walked back along the rugged sidewalk, down the winding hill to 'Bem Me Quer.' Back inside, the art/skills class was still lively, buzzing with activity in the downstairs. At the end of the day, most of the staff gathered to have a tea break together- sharing snack and Mate (a green tea grown in Brasil). People shared stories, ideas and updates around the table.

Finding so much of the familiar in the week since arriving back in Brasil has caught me by surprise. But it is just like the little girl at Maryknoll said, 'Agua tastes just like water.' Across the world, in a foreign place, speaking a foreign language… 'Bom dia' feels like a warm greeting; Jabuticaba tastes like a sweet fruit; 'bem-vindo e abrações' from Brazilians feel like a a warm invitation to participate and collaborate. Fundamentally, inside, outside and all around our comfort zones, people want to feel good. Members of Maryknoll through many different types of service, seek to understand barriers people face to feeling good, understand how people address these barriers in other cultures, and be part of creating solutions that are sustainable in the places we serve.

The Other Side of the Moon

Autumn continues in Brasil.  Days get shorter and shorter, the night air more brisk, more blossoms and brittle leaves crinkle underfoot on the sidewalks.  Unlike in New England where all trees shed all their fruit and leaves in fall, here in Brasil different trees now have their turn to grow bright blossoms and fruit in this eternal growing season!  In the more clear, brisk night air we can see the moon more clearly, and it fascinates me every evening to observe how very different the moon appears from this persective in the Southern Hemisphere– we are looking at a whole different set of craters.  While from the northern United States the moon’s craters always seemed to appear somewhat like a face, from Brasil the craters appear more numerous and clustered.  

Children’s books in Brasil must annotate this other perception of the moon.  Maybe we will take out a few books on this topic once I get off probation at our local library here in São Paulo!!  :-/.   Unlike in the US where normally you pay a fine if you return books late, here in São Paulo our library issues no fine but rescinds the privilege to take books out for as many days as the number of days your return a book late!!  Eight more days and we’ll be able to re-stock our home book collection.

Speaking of different perspectives, this has been a week marked by many new perspectives as our local Maryknoll community in São Paulo has welcomed a small group of Americans from the United States who are participating in a Maryknoll Lay Missioners Friends Across Borders immersion trip ( for more info).  A lively gang including two individuals from California, two from Connecticut, and two college students from Notre Dame– they ventured to most of our community’s ministry sites over the last 7 days and are heading to Rio de Janeiro tomorrow.  The group was led by a former MKLM who served in São Paulo, has recently completed a masters program at Notre Dame, and is off to Bosnia in a new role with Catholic Relief Services later this year.

I was fortunate to join the group on Sunday during their visit to the periphery of São Paulo where they attended mass and went for a short hike up Jaraguá (a small mountain in a state park in the northwest reaches of the city limits, it’s the city’s high-point).  Being in the periphery Sunday, the group was able to bear witness to widespread poverty in periphery favelas and the indigenous village near Jaraguá.  Speaking with one man in the group who has been on five MKLM Friends Across Borders trips, he described to me the life and mind-changing experiences he has had during each venture into the developing world.  He remembers spoon-feeding a malnourished child who sat on his knee in Cambodia at a human-services center Maryknoll helped to establish there; he remembers the horror of a killing field they visited in Cambodia that is preserved as a reminder of the systematic killing of doctors, lawyers, professors and other intellectuals during the inception of a military dictatorship 40 years ago.  He noted that despite living in the worst conditions he’d ever witnessed, Cambodians were the ‘nicest people he’d ever met on this planet.’  This took me by surprise,  because I’ve started to feel that Brazilians are the nicest people on the planet!

The view of the city from Pico do Jaraguá

Hearing stories and histories of the FAB participants was fun.  Their quest for understanding the reality of others in the world was inspiring.  On Tuesday the FAB group attended our monthly Maryknoll São Paulo Pastoral Group meeting (where lay missioners, priests, and sisters all attend), at which we had a guest speaker: Padre Benedito Prezio- a Brazilian man who has dedicated much of his life to learning about and advocating for the indigenous people of Brasil.  He highlighted the vibrant religious traditions of Brazil’s indigenous, which are rooted in their deep connection to nature.  He also described the struggles of many indigenous who have been displaced from their land and disconnected from their identity due to development of commercial interests.  His insights require a unique blog post, so stay tuned!

The FAB group accompanied by a handful of current Lay Missioners in the hired van

On Thursday I had the joy of accompanying the FAB group for the morning to Casa de Clara (a day center for elderly on the east side of the city).  Casa de Clara offers a full schedule of free activities and meals from 7am to 7pm Monday through Friday, to elderly over the age of 60 (terceira idade).  In Brasil the word for ‘elderly’ is ‘idosos.’  However, people refer to elderly individuals being of the ‘terceiro idade’ (the third age)- a more sensitive way of saying ‘old!’  Learning Brasilian Portuguese, I have discovered many instances where Brasilians opt for a gentler, more endearing term to express a given trait.  For example, people are referred to as ‘baixinha’ (a little short) or ‘gordinha’ (a little fat) instead of ‘baixa’ (short) or ‘gorda’ (fat), which would be considered a little rude.  A Maryknoll Sister here in São Paulo assists with programming at Casa de Clara several days per week.  Will the elderly here be annoyed or confused about this gaggle of Americans filtering through their bright morning painting session I wondered?!  On the contrary, the seniors were welcoming and curious toward our group.

People in the “3ª Idade” — 3rd age (senior citizens) — enjoy an art project at Casa de Clara
The FAB group learns more about the services offered by Casa de Clara
The group enjoys the beautiful open-air space on a lovely day at Casa de Clara

During the visit to Casa de Clara, a short lecture was given to the group by an organizer.  His talk outlined some of the difficulties faced by elderly in Brasil.  Whereas in the US elderly commonly have the option of living in a nursing home or assisted living situation, this option does not exist in Brasil.  The man noted that it is culturally unacceptable and immoral for elderly to be placed in institutional living – children are expected to take care of their parents.  This works out well for many elderly but not all.  Some seniors do not have families or their families do not take good care of them and there are many cases of elderly abuse- physical, emotional, and financial.  There is one publicly funded home for the elderly in the city of São Paulo and the wait to get in is currently… 17 years.  
On Friday (today!), I again had the pleasure to accompany the FAB group at their retreat house for a lecture on restorative justice.  Restorative Justice work is a cornerstone of Maryknoll’s presence and work in Brasil.  A former lay missioner was in Brasil for over 20 years helping to develop the restorative justice program in some of São Paulo’s most violent neighborhoods.  Restorative Justice courses taught by facilitators like this former lay missioner, a current lay missioner who gave the lecture today, and now Marcelo, in coordination with local Brasilian facilitators, aim to provide a process for victims of violence and perpetrators of violence to heal injustice and restore meaning in life, security, and social integration.  A key component of restorative justice courses is teaching individuals how to resolve conflicts peacefully so that individuals can let go of anger and strive for dignity and harmony in relationships.  Our facilitator today highlighted the value of Restorative Justice for both victims and perpetrators of violence because it is a process that leads to reconciliation; a process that hinges on people taking accountability and naming their desire to change; a process that relies on people sharing feelings– empathizing with each other and seeking transformation.  Restorative justice is a very humane approach to discipline- the expectations are high and the level of support is high.  This contrasts the punitive justice system, in which the expectations are high and the support is low.  I am including a few diagrams below to illuminate restorative justice a bit more.  Restorative Justice work has played a key role in diminishing violence in various neighborhoods of São Paulo and continues to gain traction each year.  Marcelo has taken two courses in restorative justice in preparation for group facilitation so far and has been assisting with a restorative justice course at Pinheiros prison here in São Paulo on multiple occasions in the past month.

Overall it was a week full of new perspectives, new bridges.  During a final reflection today, everyone in the FAB group and lay missioners present were invited to share how their perception of Maryknoll has shifted over the week.  One of the young college students from Notre Dame noted, ‘well, before coming on this trip I really didn’t know anything about Maryknoll and honestly I thought some scenarios like the length of commitment and people bringing their kids here was… crazy…. but now it makes sense- I can understand why people decide to commit to being here and doing the work that is being done.’  Full disclosure- her perceptions parellel my own and each day feels a little less crazy and a little more like the right trail.

Cecilia with Gerry and Brian, father and son from Connecticut
The farewell dinner at Brascatto Pizzaria, a very nice spot close to the retreat house where FAB members were hosted. Marcelo and Cecilia attended while Kathleen and a very tired Maëlle stayed back
Cecilia with Isabel and Brenda, students from Notre Dame who are in Brasil for eight weeks. After this first week with MKLM, they will spend the rest of their time working at a children’s school in Campinas, a city about an hour-and-a-half from the center of the city of São Paulo

Earth, Energy, Injustice… Individual efforts make a difference!

I just got home to our apartment in São Paul and in scrolling through our e-mail, news of Trump backing the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement was in all the Breaking News Alert headlines.  

Reading the summaries of various leaders and scientists’ responses, my curiousity grew- what is the per capitã carbon emission in the United States versus a developing country like Brasil.  I consulted the World Bank ( and learned that in 2013 carbon emissions in the US added up to 16 metric tons of CO2 per capitã.  In 2013 carbon emissions in Brasil added up to 2.5 metric tons of CO2 per capitã.  Currently the US is the second largest producer of carbon emissions behind China.  

Former director of the EPA describes how the US during the Obama administration provided aid to developing countries in order to mitigate the impact of climate change.  Now Trump is canceling that aid, despite the fact an enormous proportion of carbon emissions still come from the US and cause climate change around the world.  Poor people suffer the most from climate change and natural disasters since often their livelihood depends on a certain crop, water from a singular source, shelter from a home built on the least expensive, most precarious land.  

Billions of people around the world want what Americans have- safety, a car, warm water, clean rivers to swim in, inexpensive food, inexpensive clothing, light, convenience, access to reliable medical care, energy!  The list could go on and on.  Here in Brasil, even in upper-class neighborhoods, it is incredibly rare to see a home with a bathtub, hot running water (except the shower), a dishwasher, or a clothing dryer.  People in poor neighborhoods often have spotty or no access to electricity and running water.  

Imagine if everyone in the world produced the same amount of CO2 as the current per capitã consumption in the US…. the Earth could not bare it.  Americans, as people with the most access to knowledge and innovation need to LEAD development of renewable energy technology.  

On a more personal level, Americans can significantly impact US carbon emissions by becoming more aware of their own carbon foot print and endeavoring to reduce it!  Here is a website where you can calculate your carbon footprint and find resources to help reduce it:

Maryknoll holds Simple Living and Protection of the Environment as two of its distinct values.  During our orientation in New York last fall, one of our orientation leaders provided us with a list of tips to guide our efforts to individually reduce our carbon emissions.  Check it out!

1) Switch from disposable to reusable products: food and beverage containers, cups, plates, razors, diapers, towels.

2) Create less trash: Avoid creating trash when possible.  Do not use paper napkins, paper towels, paper cups.  When ordering food, avoid getting extra disposable utensils, straws, etc..  Buy products with the least packaging.

3) Whenever possible, buy USED household and clothing items– furniture, dishes, books, sports equipment, appliances.

4) Evaluate your NEEDS.  In today’s society it’s easy to think we ‘need’ certain items.  Take a step back and identify the items you truly need.

5) Print only when necessary and use both sides of each piece of paper.

6) Recycle electronics: old cell phones, ink cartridges, batteries, cameras, light bulbs, glass, paper products, plastics, aluminum, cardboard, tin cans, computer equipment, and other electronic devices.

7) Reduce your ecological footprint by walking, biking or taking public transportation when possible.  Offset flight emissions by planting trees or contributing money to projects that reduce the impact of climate change in the developing world (see website above on carbon footprint).

8) Use compact fluorescent low-mercury light bulbs in home light fixtures.  Unplug electronics when they are not in use (even when turned off, television, computer, and cell phone chargers draw electricity).

9) Reduce your food footprint by eating vegetarian more often, planting a garden, and by eating local, in-season foods!

10) Reduce your housing footprint by choosing sustainable building materials and furnishings.  Use biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products.  

11) Take shorter showers.  This saves water and saves the electricity needed to heat the water. 

12) Hang clothing to dry.  Clothing dryers use a significant amount of energy- so even hanging clothes a few times per week or even once a week will save a lot of energy.  

Thanks for considering these energy saving ideas!  I hope you embrace a some or all of them.

As Dorothy Day once said:

‘People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.’

With some effort we can bring more harmony to the world by shifting and sharing our energy!

Kids on the Run…

Before coming to Brasil in January I often wondered whether we would encounter many runners here… whether people did running 5K and 10K citizen races on weekends… whether children’s running groups were common.  Since arriving in São Paulo I’ve been thrilled to discover hundreds of runners at the park daily, running groups, running races, and this weekend- a children’s running event for children city-wide.  

A poster has been hanging on the gate of Aclimação Park for a month advertising today’s running even for children age 4 to 15.  After breakfast this morning, Cecilia hopped on her little bicycle and we trekked right over to the park.  Buses were parked along the fence near the entrance.  We could hear music, cheering and the enthusiastic voices of hundreds of children as soon as we passed through the park entrance.  Teams and groups of youth runners from all over the city and around the state of São Paulo were gathered at the far end of the park doing warm-ups.  A man on a loud-speaker was directing the warm-ups, introducing various coaches and runners, and explaining the day’s lineup of races.  One coach in particular who was introduced goes by the nickname ‘Tio Barba’ (Uncle Beard)- he has worked to develop children’s running programs in schools and community centers throughout the city, including the periphery of the city for decades – working with over 41,500 children by his count!

Kids of all ages in all types of uniforms and footwear (or no footwear at all) were excitedly doing laps on the 1K loop, circling up to do jumping jacks and stretches, and buzzing around the stage area in anticipation of the race.  At one point they played ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ (in Portuguese) with various commands (clap your hands, stomp your feet, touch your toes… then give a hug, give a 😘 beijo:-).  The whole feel of the event was warm and festive.  From Marcelo’s shoulders, Cecilia had a prime view as the older kids started their 2-Kilometer races.  Races took off in heats according to age with the oldest going first.  The level of camaraderie was impressive on the starting line as children gave high-5s and cheered each other on :-). 

As the morning went on, and younger groups lined up for their races, the starting line was officially shifted closer and closer to the finish line.  After much anticipation, the littlest children got to line up.  First the boys age 4-6 took off.  When the girls came to the line, the race organizer had the girls do a few warm-up calisthenics exercises, then requested they turn to each other and give an ‘abraço’ (a hug) and say ‘boa sorte!’ (Good luck!).  Cecilia beamed as she gave the good luck hug.  When the air horn blew, the girls took off all smiles for the 200 meter course!

Here is a video Marcelo caught:

Witnessing the growth of running as a sport in Brasil, especially among children is very exciting!  Often we encounter children in São Paulo who seem at a loss for opportunities to practice sports (especially girls).  We also witness a lot of children who face huge adversity day to day (including homelessness and hunger).  Seeing so many children from all parts of the city running today was a incredibly positive!  The focus on fun and inclusiveness among Brasilian kids was amazing to be a part of.  

Above: 1) Cecilia at the finish with medal and snack, 2) Cecilia on the run.  Some older siblings joined their little sisters during her race

3) Papaya halves that are left out each day for birds to eat (an interesting sight to be seen most days at the park), 4) Start of the 10-11-12 boys 

5) Start of the older girls race — there were a handful of barefoot runners in each heat, 6) Younger girls stretching out

7) Start of the middle-aged girls race, 8) Cecilia and her abraço buddy 🙂

Vai com Deus!

Two weekends ago I was out on an adventure with Maëlle and Cecilia.  We attended a children’s art activity at the Museu do Páteo do Colégio (a museum at the site where  Jesuits originally built a school and founded city of São Paulo).  Cecilia enthusiastically painted away alongside the other children.  Then she happily assisted with clean-up… darting around the gardens of the Pátio as she raced back and forth carrying scraps to the trash can.  The clock was ticking and I hoped we would get over to a nearby SESC (Cultural Center) to have lunch and see a children’s theater production in the afternoon.  When we were all ready to go, I looked out the door of the museum and caught a glimpse of a city bus heading our way.  I grabbed Cecilia’s hand and we raced across the cobblestone courtyard to the street and hopped on the bus in the nick of time…

After about half and hour riding the bus with Cecilia nearly bouncing out of her seat multiple times , I realized that we were back in the city center not far from where we got on and we had absolutely gotten on the wrong bus!!  Darn.  Maëlle had fallen asleep in the baby carrier.  I grasped Cecilia’s hand and told her that not only were we taking a bus, but also we would be taking a train to get to the SESC!  She hopped off the bus with me unphased and skipped along.  Since we’d exited the bus on the opposite side of São Paulo’s towering Cathedral of St. Paul (São Paulo) from the metro, I suggested that we walk through the cathedral to admire the stained glass windows en-route to the metro.  The cathedral of São Paulo is located at Sé, a neighborhood at the very heart of the city.  Cecilia trotted along, catching up to another girl her size walking with her mother.  Moving through the cathedral we soaked in the vibrant pictures in the colorful stained glass high above us.  

As we exited at the front of the cathedral, we encountered various homeless people sitting on the steps, taking a rest.  One man was holding out his hand with a few coins in it… as we walked past, Cecilia plucked a 1 real coin out.  Dismayed, I quickly asked Cecilia to give the coin back.  The man was laughing heartily and exclaimed ‘Não, pra você! Vai com Deus!  Vai com Deus filha’ (No, for you!  Go with God!  Go with God, daughter!).  He continued to laugh as I thanked him and we descended the stairs toward the metro.  

On the train I suggested to Cecilia that she could give that 1 real to the next person she sees on the street who might be in need.  Upon emerging from the metro at our stop in the Santa Cecília neighborhood, she happily ran up to the first homeless person in sight and handed him the coin.

The homeless man’s levity and warmth despite difficult life circumstances typifies an essence of warmth and joy in Brazilian people.  Despite hardship and inequality, people persevere and seem to approach life and situations with a smile, with hope, with warmth, and with a deep will to share.  

…Recently in language school our Professora Luciana imparted the story of ‘Giuseppe Martinelli’ and ‘o Primeiro arranha-céu da cidade de São Paulo’ (the first sky scraper in São Paulo).  Giuseppe Martinelli immigrated to Brasil in 1889 in pursuit of prosperity.  After creating a prosperous business in Santos (a city to the East of São Paulo along the coast), Martinelli moved to São Paulo and decided he would build a building with 30 stories-  the first sky scraper in Latin America.  At the time there were no buildings higher than 5 stories in São Paulo and the city deemed it unsafe and unlawful to build higher than 20 stories.  In 1924 Martinelli began construction and by 1928 the building reached 20 stories.  Martinelli persevered in contesting the Municipal Prefecture’s limit of 20 and they eventually raised the legal limit to 25 stories.  After reaching the legal limit of 25 stories, Martinelli decided to circumvent this limit by creating 5 additional stories, which he designated as his private home.  

Martinelli dedicated enormous resources to making the building beautiful and luxurious- resembling some of the finest hotels in North America of that time.  Below his private home, the building housed a hotel, various clubs, a ballroom, barber shops, a theater, a dance school, a newspaper, and other public businesses.  ‘Edifício Martinelli’ with it’s ornate Italian architecture became a symbol of São Paulo in this era.  

Sadly, in 1934 as the depression unraveled, Giuseppe Martinelli met financial difficulties and was forced to sell his sky scraper to the Italian government.  Later during World War II, Martinelli’s grand construction was confiscated by the Brasilian government.  During the 1960s-1970s during a period of economic hardship in São Paulo, the building turned into a vertical favela- with each room rented out to impoverished families or individuals.  With no upkeep and thousands of inhabitants, the building devolved into 30 stories of filth with non-functioning elevator shafts full of trash.  

Later, in 1975, the municipal government of São Paulo renovated the building and to this day it has housed municipal offices.  Martinelli, after becoming bankrupt during the1930’s, later moved to Rio de Janeiro and started another successful business that made him enormously wealthy once more.  

This story of Martinelli seems representative of the ebb and flow of resources and fortune in Brasil.  The fluctuant course of economic growth here is a reality that affects many people on their journey.  Brasil is also a country largely comprised of immigrants like Martinelli who journey or have journeyed from other countries in pursuit of economic or social opportunity.  

Update on Our Course in Mission

The weekend when I caught the wrong bus during my adventures with the girls, Marcelo was completing the second phase of a course in Restorative Justice that is preparing him for work with incarcerated people in São Paulo.  Marcelo has been assisting with teaching an English class in one of the local prisons.  He also continues to work on developing a radio program that will focus on sharing stories of refugees and migrants on a community radio station out of Brasilândia.  

The girls continue to enjoy school and grow their Portuguese vocabulary.  They blurt out a lot of combined Portuguese-Inglês (Portugles I call it) phrases.  Tonight Maëlle demanded ‘Quero uppy!’ Over and over in pursuit of being picked up.  Cecilia’s confidence is blossoming as she now initiates conversations with both dogs and humans in Portuguese when out and about.  

Cecilia posing at a recent Birthday Party of her Brazilian cousin here in São Paulo:-)
Cecilia posing at a recent Birthday Party of her Brazilian cousin here in São Paulo:-)

Greve… Will they take to the streets?

Greve… Will they take to the streets?

No trains raced along metro tracks in São Paulo two Fridays when the largest strike in Brasil’s history kept 35-40 million workers at home across the country .  No buses came or went from bus stops in this city of 22 million.  No banks were open.  In lieu of any public transportation, I walked just over 3 miles to the University for Portuguese class.  Streets that are normally bustling were nearly deserted as I made my way across the city past closed shops and scarcely populated office buildings.  When public transportation workers stay home, so do all the people who depend on their services!  The ‘Greve’ or strike was in fact a ‘Greve Geral’ or ‘general strike’ throughout the entire country of Brasil.  Workers from many industries and institutions (most prominently transportation workers and bank workers) were protesting proposed changes to legislature that dictates regulations for unions, the minimum retirement age, and workers rights.

I arrived at school wondering ‘where are the protestors?’  Two thirds of my walking commute had been down ‘Avenida Paulista’ – one of the most prominent avenues in the heart of São Paulo’s commerce district… Yet I’d only seen a handful of people walking around with signs reading ‘Temer:….’.  Marcelo texted to see how my commute went, I responded ‘tranquilo’ (tranquil) and noted that I’d take the same route home.

Professora Luciana, my Portuguese professor talked with those of us who made it to class about the political situation in Brasil and the nature of the Greve.  She outlined some of the workers primary concerns and noted that the issue of increasing the age of retirement is relevant to workers across society in all work sectors.  Currently the minimum retirement age for women in Brasil is 55 years of age while the minimum retirement age for men is 60 years of age.  A proposal from the current Right wing majority government in Brasil is to increase the minimum age of retirement to 65 for all Brazilians.  In a country where the majority of workers do very physically taxing work, this proposal is invoking fear and anger.  Unions are stating that with a retirement age of 65, people will be worked to death.

On my return home from school the streets seemed eerily quiet making the helicopters passing and hovering overhead more noticeable.  Then, as I turned onto Avenida Paulista, I saw the flood of people coming toward me.  The road was packed shoulder to shoulder with people marching, chanting, drumming, singing.  Banners and enormous balloons floated through the air over their heads.  I stood on the sidewalk with a group of other observers as the wave of protesters came closer.  People of all kinds marched past- elderly, babies, women, men.   A union organizer’s voice boomed from the microphone on a large truck that passed by carrying union organizers.  The organizers words elicited shouts and cheers from the crowd.  

After about 20 or 30 minutes the flood of protesters had passed an only a trickle remained on the empty avenue.  Bikers and roller bladers who saw this golden opportunity to own the expansive street appeared – zipping up and down the avenue- some with children in tow.  As I plodded onward toward home I also passed a couple of bands on the sidewalk taking the opportunity to perform.  

Because of their prominence in people’s daily lives, banks and transportation entities were the most prominent participants in the ‘greve.’  As I passed by one Bradesco bank that had streamers criss-crossing the front door announcing the ‘greve’, I took a photo of one poster hung on the gate that outlined the objectives of the ‘greve.’  

Objectives outlined include: Nenhum direito a menos (not one less right); Em Defesa dos Bancos Públicos (in defense of public banks); Contra a Extinção Dos Direitos Trabalhistas (Against Loss of Workers Rights); Contra a Reforma Da Previdência (Against Healthcare Reform); Combate a Terceirização (Against Outsourcing)


Leading up to this enormous strike, there have been many articles in the newspaper and in political magazines commenting on significant corruption among politicians and criticizing cuts to social programs.  Even, ‘Veja,’ a right-leaning publication had a front page story about the disregard Brazil’s current leaders have for the needs of society.  The current government is legislating in favor of increased privatization in Brasil– handing over responsibility for entities such as metro lines to private interests in order to reduce government spending and increase competition.  Privatization ultimately reduces workers ability to leverage power and advocate for rights and benefits because workers become siloed under so many different employers.

A cegueira moral de Alexandre de Moraes (the moral blindness of Alexandre de Moraes- Federal Judge who is not interested in investigating corruption in government); A surdez oportuna de Michel Temer (The opportunistic deafness of Michel Temer- President of Brasil); O silêncio cúmplice de Eliseu Padilha (the complicit silence of Brazil’s Chief of Staff)

A factor contributing to political unrest at this moment in Brasil is that the current President (Temer) was put into power as a result of an impeachment process (of former President Dilma Rousseff) that many Brazilians feel was more of a coup.  Since Temer has taken office, political actions have focused on cutting spending – with social programs and workers conditions suffering as a result.  

Seeing the masses of people speaking up for their rights, for human rights, for workers rights, for health care, for quality of life of workers- reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of months ago when walking in our neighborhood.  I was walking with a man who had recognized me as American and asked about the political situation in the US with Trump.  I acknowledged that there is a great deal of controversy in the US and noted that many people oppose the reforms he is interested in making to our political system and to the way government invests resources.  He looked at me and said, ‘Well they’re upset but will they take to the streets?  Will they take to the streets like us Brazilians?’  In that moment I thought of all the women’s marches I had heard about that occurred on Trump’s Inauguration Day and the tens of thousands who protested on the day Trump tried to initiate a travel ban on people from muslim nations.  Still I wasn’t sure what to say.  I knew Brasil had emerged as a Democracy in the 1980s- from a corrupt, violent military dictatorship- largely because of civil action and grassroots efforts led by church and political organizers.  Yet I hadn’t witnessed firsthand how Brazilians take to the streets in defense of human rights.  The strike just over one week ago, which was cited by newspapers as the largest strike in Brazil’s history (with 35-40 million workers participating), was a window into Brazilians’ passion, unity and readiness to act.