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October 26, 2004


We finally met the community that we are supposed to be working with this semester as part of the U.S.-Brazil Consortium for Sustainable Urban Design and COMMUNITY-BASED Resource Management.  (I know, I know, it’s the first semester of the Consortium, so I shouldn’t expect things to be well-organized yet–though it would have been nice if they had told us that before I decided to come here.).  Anyway, the situation of the community that we visited this morning made me immediately want to run back to my bedroom in Porto Alegre and give away half of everything I have to the people we met (I need the other half to stay clothed while I’m here, which is required by law and the finnicky weather).  The community was displaced from their previous homes in Eldorado do Sul to a loteamento (development) in the middle of a huge field outside of the consolidated part of the city.  The neighborhood itself has paved roads, but only a kilometer-long, rutted dirt road connects it to the rest of the city, making for a hell of a walk on a rainy and/or hot day.  The homes that the people are living in are one-room, wooden shacks with corrugated tin rooves and no electricity or water (yet–supposedly the municipality is on top of that). 

I presume the municipality thought that it could put these people out of sight and out of mind, but fortunately the residents are fighters and wouldn’t let their officials get away with it:  last week when we arrived for a meeting with the city planner and one of its architects, the residents were standing in the street outside of the municipal building banging together water bottles and water drums to demand water hook-ups in their neighborhood. 

I suppose I understand why the municipality wanted to relocate these residents:  it’s much easier for people to go about their everyday lives without feeling guilty when they aren’t face-to-face with human beings who live in such dire conditions.  Like I said, out of sight, out of mind.  But poverty and suffering aren’t out of sight in most of the world–even our own.  Even if we don’t live near it, we pass by it or see signs of it on the TV.  But it’s not our problem.  We can’t save the world; each of us is just one person.  Right?

WRONG.  We can’t look to the rich and the wealthy (or the government) and expect them to do the donating and the cutting back.  Most of us in the middle class have far more than we need to live a comfortable life.  And I’m not talking radical here:  I’m not suggesting that each of us should own only two pairs of pants, seven shirts, and seven pairs of socks and underwear, one for each day of the week; I’m not saying that we shouldn’t own anything beyond what we absolutely need for survival–but there IS plenty that all of us could live without.  For example, multiple televisions and computers.  Guest bedrooms that we really never use.  DVD’s instead of VHS.  Cell phones with Internet acces and instant messaging.  When people are hungry, cold, and hurting, how can we justify owning these things? 

I can’t tell you what is right or wrong.  I only know what is right or wrong for me, and for me, this is wrong.  I CAN’T justify owning as much as I do when a young, fair-skinned woman with a sweet, chapped-lipped smile and an infant in her arms shows me her make-shift home across the river from one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil.  How could we all stand there this morning and tell her that we ourselves don’t have money or supplies to offer, just ideas for how they can make the most of their own limited resources?  It’s a lie.  We could share plenty.  We could all pool together more than enough money and/or supplies to help them build a daycare center or a clinic, two of their primary desires.  We could truly reach out to them by breaking from the norms of the society that put them there in the first place, the norms that tell us it’s okay for us to have as much as we have because we’ve earned it throught education and hard work.

To me it’s not okay to have as much as I have while others have so little.  I want to truly live by Mahatma Gandhi’s motto, “Live simply so others can simply live.”  And I want to share–I want to share what I have that is beyond what I need.  To redistribute my resources rather than waiting for the government to do it for me.  (Then maybe one day it will follow my lead.). 

Remember when you were a kid?  What were your favorite things to do?  I know for me it was to play outside, to make up games to play in the woods or in the backyard; to play house or hide-and-seek.  To do simple things. Why don’t we use this creativity anymore when we’re adults?  Why do we need so many entertainment gadgets?  Why don’t we spend more time talking, playing, preparing meals (and really appreciating the process of food preparation, which sustains us).  Or, better yet, working together to build a better world?

I could go on forever, but I’ll stop before you stop reading!  But think about what I’ve written.  Think about what you do with your money and resources, and what you could do with your money and resources to help out someone else who is in serious need.  It’s not giving up–it’s getting so much more in return to know that you’ve made someone else healthier and happier.


From → Brazil, Uncategorized

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