working with transition brasilândia- a reflection

‘A periferia se cansou de esperar a oportunidade que nunca chegava, e que viria de fora, do centro’ (Hermano Vianna) Periferia em Movimento

(The periphery got tired of waiting for opportunites that were never coming, and which were to come from outside, from the central city.)

I first learnt of Transition Brasilândia as I looked for organisations or social movements that embodied the vision of the environment that I had and that worked in what might be considered an informal settlement or in a low-income urban area. I was really hoping to find places that confirmed the conviction I had that it was possible to have a well-rounded movement; that addressing and attacking the challenges of urban inequality and ecological damage and disregard could go hand in hand. And I won’t lie, I wanted to be back in São Paulo. This city had been the first place where I had been woken up to social movements, socialism that was alive, and people who critiqued their city through words as well as (and importantly) through actions.

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Transition Brasilândia gets the name and ideals from the Transition Town movement that began in Totnes with Rob Hopkins, a permaculturalist. Besides being part of the Transition family that includes cities, towns, neighbourhoods, communities, and other initiatives that exist around the world however, each Transition Initiative is independent in their decisionmaking and problem solving. Transition Brasilândia happens to be the first transition initiative in a low income area, Vila Brasilândia in the North (Zona Norte) of São Paulo, and began in 2010. The mission of Transition is to build resilience in local communities in the face of peak oil (more of my thoughts on this later) and climate change. Ultimately each initiative determines what they need and seeks solutions themselves to such issues. Economic uncertainties brought about by unemployment or underemployment are part of the challenges that Transition Brasilândia seeks to address for example.

Transition Brasilândia works as a decentralised network (ie without a head) connecting residents and project leaders in Vila Brasilândia with each other to provide support to each node as it were, as all of them work to build resilience within themselves. Transition Brasilândia also works in partnership with Oficina da Sustentabilidade, a sustainability consulting company that uses their profits to support the various Transition initiatives and for whom Brasilândia acts as a laboratory for different sustainability projects and ideas. Monica Picavea, the director of Oficina and who had worked in Brasilândia for some time with Fundaçao Stickel had the idea of beginning Transition in Brasilândia as she looked around for a model of sustainability that could work in an urban environment. She suggested it to some residents and from those conversations got more people interested and thus Transition in Brasilândia began- connecting groups and people that had been doing things to leverage the benefit of working together and in a network- as well as providing a space for new ideas and projects to emerge. Below is an infographic (from 2010 so there’s more going on now) of some of the projects, groups and partners of Transition with those that I got to know or work with circled- clearly there was a lot happening.

Transition_what I did

During my 2.5 months with Transition Brasilândia, I worked in various projects (and blogged about it) in an effort to learn as much as I could about the movement as a whole and how it worked, as well as to expose myself to different tasks in the hope of acquiring diverse skills. As such, my days were never quite like each other. After a bit of a rocky start when I was still not comfortable with my language skills and ability to move around in the community alone, however, I learnt how to make my own (ever-changing) schedule and to operate successfully within the inconstancy of my internship.

I accompanied two women’s income generating projects that were formed and ran on a solidarity economy model- O Grupo Brasilianas, that makes bags from recycled materials; and Os Doces Talentos, a community bakery. Working with O Grupo Brasilianas involved helping with the dismantling of donated old bags to get fabric that could be used to make new bags, joining the work line during the making of bags to fulfil an order, teaching some basic computer skills and learning how to sew a bag under the tutelage of one of the women.

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I helped the group Os Doces Talentos set up a crowd-funding project to acquire funds to enable them renovate a new space they had moved to. Most of the women involved in both of these projects were immigrants to Sao Paulo from other states (predominantly from Bahia) and before working in these projects were home makers. Both of these projects had been the result of training (both for the sewing and baking, and for running a business) through the Foundation Gertulio Vargas and their social enterprise incubator arm- ITCP (Incubadora Tecnológica de Cooperativas Populares) and support from Fundaçao Stickel. According to one of the women of as Brasilianas, Transition has been helpful as a partner through which more people have come to know about the groups which has ultimately been good for business.

I had the opportunity to visit the incubator and was able to see and hear about more of the work that they do to support social enterprises, in essence, so that they can compete with other enterprises. They have supported other groups all over the country all with the aim of setting up social enterprises in the model of a solidarity economy, that will be sustained past the incubatory period as a way to address poverty.

Some of my other tasks included helping in the setting up of a new community garden; checking on the state of an existent one; helping in the renovation of a building that will be the future eco-centre for the community; keeping the blog and social media sites of Transition Brasilândia updated; and doing and checking translations of texts on the Oficina da Sustentabilidade website and for some of the groups. I also got to know other groups affilaited with Transition such as Guardiões Griô, Grupo Sambaqui, and Favela, Cinema e Pipoca- but which were either working on securing funds for an event, reflecting on previous events and/or facing challenges. I found it useful to see these groups in moments of pause- of reflection and challenges- and to see that community development work is not always go-go-go, and there are times of inaction and these are important as well.

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Much of the work I did in Brasilândia was work that I had never done before. To have the opportunity to plant a garden that will hopefully provide residents who cannot afford it (all the time), with fresh vegetables; to mix earth-paint (geotinta) and paint a community built building and help with other renovations; to sew a bag made with fabric that was once a bank messenger’s bag after dismantling it- all of these were an opportunity to DO something, an opportunity which I had always longed for.

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As a graduating senior, I realised that I wanted to not only think about, write and talk about pertinent issues in the world but also do things about them. Being concerned about the intersection of environmental issues and a growing urban population in especially the continent I am from, I felt the need to be able to do things even more. I was therefore glad for these opportunities and happy that I was able to rise to the challenge and in so doing add to the skills I had from Wellesley.

While living in Brasilândia I was often asked to do things too that I might have at first not thought I could- such as help my host brother make a shoe rack from 2 crates and a ladder he had found at a waste point, or teach a dance workshop.

finished shoe rack-- photo by Dimas
finished shoe rack– photo by Dimas

The journey from my own disbelief in my ability to do these things to actually doing them was invaluable for me. I learnt a new confidence and trust in what I knew and could do. In the case of the dance workshop I learnt too that the trust other people have in us shown by their asking us to do things, can often lead us to believe in ourselves and push our boundaries in ways that help us grow. For example, I am currently planning to have a series of dance workshops in the community centre here (Mexico City)- la Escuelita, where I currently am living and working as part of my fellowship as a way to share culture, build community and raise money for the community. I would never have imagined being able to do this before my internship in Brasilândia.

Taller de danza

I was glad to have had the opportunity to work with both Oficina da Sustentabilidade and Transition Brasilândia. I look forward to applying the skills and insights I gained from my time in Vila Brasilândia, São Paulo for a future in which I work to improve the environmental conditions of urban communities in Kenya, as well to the other places I will be in on this journey. 🙂

listen to a rap song done by Japa about Transition Brasilandia here and find out more about Transition in Brasilandia here and here and about Oficina da Sustentabilidade here.

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