Rios de Encontro
The Rios de Encontro project was founded by Dan Baron and Manoela Souza of the Transformance Institute in 2009. It is an eco-social project located in the afro-indigenous, riverside community of Cabelo Seco in the Amazonian city of Marabá, state of Pará. This region is known for having one of the highest indices of violence among young people (between the ages of 15-24) in Brazil. Rios de Encontro was created to respond to the socio-environmental violence caused by the industrialization of the Amazon. The project aims to cultivate sustainable communities by reawakening and celebrating the rich culture of the region through youth-led micro-projects focused on dance, music, literature, video and theatre. Through these artistic languages, Cabelo Seco and its young people are encouraged to value their afro-indigenous, riverside origin and to strengthen these roots, whose survival is being threatened by accelerated economic development programs. Over the past several years, Rios de Encontro has seen young people evolve into community leaders, capable of transforming a violent community into a source of cultural solidarity and sustainability.
Rios de Encontro acts as the umbrella organization for 11 different micro-projects at the moment. All of the activities associated with these micro-projects unfold within the community, attracting the participation of many children and other young people. Among micro-projects such as a community library, dance company, community radio station and others, the young musicians of Cabelo Seco formed their own band named Latinhas do Quintal (Backyard Drums). Their music speaks about the threats posed to the rivers and forests of the Amazon and reveals the multinational corporations responsible for this destruction. The band received national and international attention when it refused to preform on any stage co-sponsored by the mining company Vale during Marabá’s recent centenary celebrations. In the spring of 2013 I was lucky enough to attend the launch event of their first CD, Amazônia Nossa Terra (Amazonia Our Land). Rios do Encontro has won national awards in 2008, 2010 and 2014, a national UNESCO award in 2011 and international awards in 2014 for its achievements in transforming perceptions of this marginalized and stigmatized community.
I met Dan Baron and his partner Manoela Souza in the spring of 2013 when my study abroad program was passing through the city of Marabá. They invited my group to watch a performance by the Latinhas do Quintal and through speaking with Dan I was able to learn much more about Rio de Encontro’s initiatives. I learned that persistent violence is a regional characteristic of Marabá and much of the day to day street violence that takes place here is a direct consequence of heavy pressure for industrialization. The community of Cabelo Seco is especially vulnerable to these transformations being one of the poorer neighborhoods in Marabá and a target for economic development. Intrigued by this phenomenon and extremely impressed by Dan and Mano’s commitment to involving the residents of Cabelo Seco in a sustainable project, I decided to conduct an independent research project (a final requirement of the study abroad program) in Cabelo Seco. To get a better idea of where this city is situated in the Amazon, take a look at the map below. The community of Cabelo Seco is located on the tip of Marabá Pioneira, at the confluence of the Itacaiúnas and the Tocantins Rivers.
Through the interviews I conducted for my research, it was apparent that this community project has not only helped to decrease violence by changing the external and internalized image of Cabelo Seco and its collective self-esteem, but that it has generated hope for a better future among these people. After the culmination of my research project and the study abroad program, I headed back to the States but couldn’t keep the valuable experiences and relationships from entering my mind. I continued to stay in touch with Dan throughout my senior year at college, helping them with fundraising efforts and even getting the opportunity to reunite at the Chico Mendes Conference in Washington, D.C.
My senior year spring semester was one that many undergraduate seniors can relate to: full of emailing resumes and jumping at my phone every time an unknown number appeared on the screen. I struggled to find an opportunity that would allow me to return to Cabelo Seco, or even Brazil. Having a wide variety of career paths open to me, I wasn’t quite set on which one I wanted to pursue. It was frustrating to find out I had missed many of the deadlines for grants and scholarships that would have afforded me the opportunity to continue conducting research abroad. I decided to reach out to Dan directly. I knew Rios de Encontro had potential project ideas in motion and I wanted to be a part of it. Real, on the ground field experience would be a valuable asset to my studies. Above all, I really desired to see my work have a tangible social and environmental impact. Having spent four years in a classroom, I wanted to see how I could apply my knowledge and education to the real world before pursuing a master’s degree. Considering I had already designed a role for myself in past grant proposals, I wondered how feasible this collaboration would be in the absence of an actual grant. Over skype a few days later, Dan proposed that Rios de Encontro sponsor my return to Cabelo Seco, where I would hold my self-designed, project coordinator position in the development of their upcoming project, Gira-Sol. I couldn’t believe this opportunity was actually possible!
In June 2014, Rios de Encontro was awarded a grant from the Brazil Foundation to fund a new transversal project, Gira-Sol. Gira-Sol is focused on the idea of “energies of life” involving three overlapping components: solar energy, healthy food, and the performing arts. The aim is to continue developing projects that ensure a living, sustainable future for Amazonian communities. At the end of 2014, these three components have come to life in the form of a community garden, a preliminary mobile photovoltaic installation, an enormous community bike-ride called “Eu Sou Amazônia” (“I am the Amazon”), and a contemporary dance preformed by the dance company micro-project, AfroMundi.
The goal for 2015 is to install a larger solar energy system in Cabelo Seco. The system will supply electricity to two cultural spaces; it will be situated on the roof of our cultural center and also supply our library and offices, located down the street. Gira-Sol advocates a radical transformation in Brazil’s energy sector, away from the development of large hydroelectric dams and toward cleaner, accessible alternatives such as solar energy. In a time where dams are prioritized by the Brazilian government and presented as the answer to sustainable development, despite their well-documented socio-environmental consequences, Gira-Sol has planted the seed for an alternate proposal. Solar energy promises a future for the residents of Cabelo Seco, whose livelihoods and environment are directly threatened by imposed and accelerated development projects. The solar energy, healthy food and preforming arts projects are approved and implemented by the young coordinators of Cabelo Seco and the community. They represent a significant and necessary step toward human sustainability because people are encouraged to have the courage to take responsibility, and to do so together.
My primary role is to work as a project coordinator for the solar energy component of Gira-Sol. I structure and co-coordinate solar energy workshops within the community, conduct research on various aspects of the project (materials, costs, partners, feasibility), meet with a technical team who aids us in all the engineering aspects of the project, and put significant effort into publicizing our work on both a national and international scale. While my main focus is the solar energy project, I also spend a portion of my time participating in the activities and workshops of the other micro-projects.
I am very excited to see how this project unfolds over the next few months. This solar installation, taking place in a community that has been subject to centuries of exclusion, prejudice, and socio-economic inequality, holds great symbolic significance. The solar energy project has, and will continue to, sensitize the young people of Cabelo Seco about the possibilities of a different future, while equipping them with the technical skills and knowledge about one of the most important emerging markets in the country.