Cultivating Community Knowledge: Growing Food, Flower & Ethnobotanical Gardens with Street Children in Brazil.
Projeto Sossego do Meio Ambiente - Peace in the Environment Project Results and Summary of Activities - funded by CIDA
By Illène Pevec
I went to Santo Ângelo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil in January of 2001 to start community gardens with children in a very poor community in a town of 76,000 people in Brazil's southern interior. My host organization, CELUAN, had done an extensive sociological study of the targeted community but not yet begun the educational outreach they wished to do. I began a program of environmental education with about 80 to 100 children and adolescents and some parents. Through art activities they identified a community clean-up, tree planting, a park for the children, and community gardens as a focus for our work.
Creating community gardens costs very little money for the positive results it achieves for the people involved. Given the dangerous effects of pesticide residues on children's physical and intellectual development, an organically grown community garden provides inexpensive, vitamin rich food to the earth's most vulnerable citizens, the children. A community garden also teaches more than gardening and healthy eating, it connects people with each other and with the earth, and from those deep connections comes much positive growth.
Update February 26, 2003
In January, 2002 with funding from American and Canadian foundations channeled through Susila Dharma International we expanded the project to include a summer pre-school program for very young children and their care-takers and a summer camp for the children 6 to 14. We worked with twelve 15 to 18 year olds to form a "Green Team" of counselors to lead and assist the younger children with their work in the garden and their recreational and educational activities at the camp. Nature studies, art, traditional Brazilian games, swimming, and a carnival party at the end gave the children many experiences.
Celuan continued the work with the children throughout the year using their school facilities to provide a play site, sports, English, Computer education, dance and music lessons to the children three days a week. Five days a week the Green Team of counselors alternates supervising younger children at the community center in gardening, educational and play activities. Adão Vieira, the community president, coordinates the Green Team andthe children and at the community garden.
In October 38 young people ages 10 to 18 went on a trip to Iguassu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina to visit the national park in both countries and the environmental school run by the Brazilian government. This trip rewarded these young people for their hard work of the past 22 months of working to keep their community trash free and their community garden growing. Funding was provided by 3 American foundations.
After a 13 hour bus ride the students got their first glimpse of a sub-tropical forest in a natural state. They played environmental games to learn the names of the animals living in the park and learned about the history of region, known by the Guarani people as the Valley of the Butterflies. The children renewed their enthusiasm as green ambassadors for their community and planted more fruit trees in the community garden on their return. The garden is gradually becoming a permaculture garden with a variety of fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs growing year-round.
February 2003 the children have a summer camp again. A sewing program for mothers and teens will begin soon, along with a pre-school and parent educational program using the methods of the International Child Development Project at the Celuan facility. Parents in the community have begun an additional community garden, as has one of the child care centers run by a teacher who used to be at the grade school where we planted the first school garden. The seeds are spreading for organically grown food for families.
This summarizes the work accomplished through April 1, 2001.
Community meetings and workshops with adults, children and youth to identify environmental assets and problems. Art used with children and adults as a tool for visioning. Late January to mid-February
Needed: More employment, enterprises within community, sewer system and gutters, a park with play equipment for children and volleyball and soccer courts, community garden for food, job training for youth, trees for streets, river bank and park, clean up the trash, clean the polluted river.
Assets: Friendly neighbourhood where people know each other well—a good number of trees already planted on sidewalks.
Community Clean-up Day: Feb. 17
Participation by about 60 children and youth, 20 adults, and the local Coca-Cola distributor who donated a truck to haul the trash away to the dump. 10 local businesses donated food for the small meal served at the end of the day to everyone who had worked. Two donated commercial trash containers and hauled them away. Every household in the neighbourhood received a hand-delivered invitation to help clean up and to participate in the tree planting ceremony that opened the event. Two trees were planted in front of the community center and a trash receptacle was placed there as well.
Create the Community Garden at the Community Centre, the Nucleo. Work began last two weeks in February, fully planted by first week in March. Work continued daily with first crops of radishes and arugula harvested in last week of March. There are 20 plots, some shared. some singly tended, plus one for the community centre itself and one of medicinal plants. Four plots had adult partnership, CIDA purchased wheelbarrow, hoes, shovels, rakes, hoses, small hand gardening tools, flowering bush, seed starting container and seeds. CIDA also purchased the wood, paint, cement etc to make a grape arbor and benches for the garden.
Create Gardens at the local grade school: The grade school serves 6 classes of children from kindergarten to grade 4, 108 students. Students range from age 6 to 60. For Four Wednesdays in March Illène and Adão sometimes with the help of Denize worked with every class to create the gardens each class had chosen to do. This required clearing the school grounds of trash and weeds, something that had not been done in a long time. (It had been locked and unreachable on the community clean-up day.) The Grade 4 class did the vegetable garden, grade 3 did medicinal plants, grade 2 started a fruit orchard, grade one did an herb and seasoning garden and the kindergarten and morning grade 1 shared planting the butterfly and hummingbird garden. The food raised in the gardens will be used to supplement the school snack and any extra will go home with the kids. CIDA purchased wheelbarrow, hoes, shovels, rakes, hose, four fruit trees, two flowering bushes and seeds. (The other varieties of fruit trees desired by the students can't be planted until May which is why they were not purchased.)
Teaching of Environmental Awareness: Accomplished in an integrated manner with the gardening and trash cleaning activities at both the Nucleo and School. I had excellent basic botany and ecology books available to use daily from CELUAN's library.
Field Trips: Worm manure farm: CELUAN gave us their school bus to take the children in the project to a local farm where all manure and organic matter is recycled by worms into excellent worm castings. After a presentation on worms at the school they have begun to build a worm bin for the students to recycle organic matter and make good organic garden fertilizer.
San Miguel das Missões: This is the most important historic site in the region where the Jesuits had an agricultural colony that protected Indians from enslavement by the Portuguese from the north. The city gave us a tour bus to take the children to see the ruins and the city of San Miguel gave us free entry to the site and sound and light show that describes the history. For most of these children it was the first time they had ever left their town since the families do not own cars. Since the site is a UNESCO world heritage site there is consciousness in the town to keep it clean and the children were able to see a place free of trash with many trash containers to help the public keep it clean.
Soap Making: The community health agent came to the Nucleo one morning to teach us how to make soap from tallow and included herbs grown in the neighbourhood that help to clean bugs like lice from hair and skin. We were thinking of this as another possible money making activity for the project, but the financial gain is minimal from selling the soap.
Public Awareness: This program attracted a great deal of media interest. We were in the newspaper sometimes three times a week, always at least once a week with articles in the state capital's paper and on the internet also. I was interviewed on the radio with the community volunteers several times. We put project photos on exhibit in the Nucleo when we had a party to honor the work of the children in creating the gardens. We took the six prepared photo boards to the town square the last two Sundays to participate in the weekly event that combines crafts fair and community information. A large number of people came to see the photos and talk to the children and adults about our project.
Public Honors: The City Council of Santo Ângelo gave me a public homenagem, an honor of speeches and certificate, in council chambers to thank me for the project. The school honored me on International Women's Day with poems, songs and skits performed in my honor. The Mayor of San Miguel honored me with thanks for bringing environmental awareness to the region. The challenge, of course, is to get public officials to go further than words and put money into the program so that it can continue as a youth problem-prevention program and spread to other neighbourhoods and towns.
Public Petitions and teaching of democratic action: In the last two weeks we circulated two petitions: one to ask for the park by the river in the space allocated as "Green Space" but currently a field of weeds and trash; one petition asks for the space from the city to have a wood working shop so that the youth can have a constructive activity and learn a marketable skill. The decision to do this came from the community as a whole, children and adults. The children took the petitions house to house in the neighbourhood and to the Sunday meeting in the town square. These petitions will go to the mayor and city council.
Project Identification: I decided to make t-shirts for the children and adults who had participated in the program from its inception. This was a gift to them from CIDA for two months of work in transforming their community from a trash bin to a much cleaner place with two new gardens. I presented the t-shirts at the party we had a week before I left to honor the children's work. A local t-shirt company had a graphic of a seedling being held in a hand ready for planting and that graphic went under the name of our project, Projeto Sossego do Meio Ambiente-The Peace in the Environment Project.
CELUAN: an organization of teachers and others interested in providing enriched educational opportunities to marginalized children. Their support to me was huge in terms of their introduction to the community, the full use of their library and office while I worked, room and board and professional and personal friendship.
Garabi-Ita: A reforestation project operated by the state whose purpose is the reforestation of the river that runs through the town and borders our specific targeted neighbourhood. They have promised us tree seedlings for the river bank and proposed park and instructions for planting these native species of trees. We have asked for their help in making the park an ecological teaching park so that people can understand what native forest is in this region which has only 8% of the native trees left.
The Nucleo Communitaria: The Community Centre is a small building of one room with a half room kitchen area that has a small sink, two burner stove and attached bathroom. It's back yard is where we developed the first community garden. Adčo Vieira is the president, a voluntary position with no pay and many responsibilities as this is the only public meeting area aside from the churches and grade school in the community. Everything from wakes to birthday parties to our program happens here.
The Public Grade School: Municipal school for grades k to 4: site of second garden and sponsor of the Mother's Club which helps mothers to learn crafts that they can make at home and sell at the crafts fair for a small financial gain.
Pastoral da Criança: This nation-wide organization of volunteers dedicated to the health of young children and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize works actively in the community handing out nutritional information and natural supplements to parents. The volunteers in our project also work in the Pastoral and we met together several times to see how we could support each other. They are an integral part of the community and have done much to improve local health.
In Summary: Every day in morning and afternoon sessions at the Nucleo I worked with the assistance of Adão Vieira, the community president and Denize Vieira, his adult daughter, to create the gardens, care for them, play environmental games and fix nutritious food with the children. Since there is no place in the community for the children to play currently and many of their mothers work away from home as maids our program gave the children a place to come and be involved in supervised activity they enjoyed. They also received a nutritious snack after their hard work in the garden and this snack is an important addition to very meager diets. The grade school where we worked each Wednesday will probably need on-going support from Adão on a weekly basis if they are to sustain their large gardens. Only three teachers actually were willing to put their hands in the dirt when I was working with them.
- Financial needs of project: I realized early on that there needed to be a way for the project to sustain its expenses once I left and the CIDA money was spent. It became apparent that we had started a child and youth problem prevention program, not just a community garden with environmental education. We need money to pay at least one person to continue the program which serves children both mornings and afternoons. (Some children go to school in the am, some in the pm, so the program served different groups of kids in am and pm.) Money is needed for staff salary and children's snacks.
- On-going Environmental Education: The public school belongs to a national environmental education program, the Clube dos Arvores, The Tree Club. This program has excellent educational materials that they send for free (paid for by the largest cigarette company in Brazil). The school had participated two years ago and given up when the city tore up all the trees they planted by the river because the city didn't know the tree seedlings were there. With the cleaning of the school grounds and the planting of trees, flowers and vegetables the teachers renewed their enthusiasm to recommence environmental education activities. They copied the educational materials I had and reactivated their membership in Clube Dos Arvores. We enrolled our project as a member of Clube dos Arvores so that the community center will receive environmental educational materials for free to continue the work with the children. CELUAN also enrolled their private school in this free program.
Update: August, 2001
The younger children have been attending art, physical education, and personal health programs at CELUAN steadily since April twice a week. The older children have recently participated in planting native trees in the neighbourhood through Garabi-Ita. A Danish company that does water and sewage treatment installations using aquatic plants has expressed interest in finding grants to work with the community to meet their sanitation needs. The city of Santo Angelo has promised to help create a park for the children, but no actual work has begun.
What is needed?
Funds to complete a documentary video on the work of the children to use this as an information and training tool for communities and development workers, educators, and volunteers interested in doing community gardens with families at any location in the world.
Funds to return to Brazil to continue environmental education training of the adults now working with the children.
Funds for the community animators to have paid work continuing this program with the children.
Budgets can be provided to anyone interested in these programs.
The Peace in the Environment Project--Projeto Sossego do Meio Ambiente A program of A Child's Garden of Peace
These principles were written by the student participants ages 10 to 18 of the summer camp run in January-February, 2002, Bairro Centro Sul, Santo ngelo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. They wrote them in group meetings of 10 to 25 students and adopted them as a whole on February 8, 2002. About 60 students participated.
Our principles are for the improvement and preservation of the environment of our neighborhood (Centro Sul), city (Santo ngelo), state (Rio Grande do Sul), country (Brazil) and planet (Earth).
I. The Human Environment
A. We respect our colleagues and the adults with whom we work.1.We respect our differences of color, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
2.We do not tolerate racism or sexual discrimination or any other form of prejudice.
3.We work united.
4. We respect the physical space of each person. (We don't hit each other.)
5.We respect each other's feelings, ideas and opinions.
6.We speak with respect to one another.
7.We respect and obey the adults with whom we work.
8.We respect the smaller children and treat them with care.
9.We divide the work equally amongst us. 10.We use our resources equally amongst ourselves. 11.We are punctual for our work, play and all activities.
B. We don't fight when we have differences1. We talk with each other to resolve our problems.
2. If that doesn't work we ask the Green Team to help us.
3. We ask for the help of the adults.
C. The well being of our bodies is our personal responsibility1. During project activities we do not smoke.
2. During project activities we do not drink alcoholic beverages.
3. We never take drugs.
4. We never participate in illegal activities
II. The Natural Environment: We work together for our community
A. The Community Garden: We have these responsibilities for the growing of organic food for our families and the community.1. Preparation of the soil with organic fertilizer
2. Plant vegetables, fruits and flowers in the proper season
3. Keep the garden watered
4. Pull weeds
5. Pick vegetables and fruits when they are ready to eat
6. Gather seeds
B. The Clean-Up of the Community1. We will plan a campaign in our community to educate and orient families about proper trash disposal
2. We will help to clean the streets and riverbanks of our community.
C. Community Arborization1. We will cooperate with the Garabi-Itá project and other organizations to plant trees.
D. A Community Park for leisure: We will work with the community and the city to realize this dream1. The small children need a place to play
2. The youth need a place to play volley ball and soccer
3. The adults need a place to relax
4. The natural environment needs native plants and trees of the region for the good health of all
E. The Itaquarinchim River needs protection and cleaning1. We will educated ourselves about our river
2. We will cooperate with others to clean and help the river
III. The Work of CommunicationA. When we have an activity we will advise the press (print, radio, TV)
B. We will make posters to inform and educate the public
C. We will make leaflets about environmental issues such as trash
D. We will produce dramatizations to inform the public about the environment
E. We will seek workshops to educate ourselves and the public about the environment