The main case study for my scholarship trip and research was Curitiba. This is a city in Brazil that is well known for being a sustainable city, but I was there to put to test the social sustainability. For me, sustainability must always integrate social, economic and environmental sustainability. There is little point in having fantastic bus routes (BRT – Bus Rapid Transit) and recycling projects if they are not accessible to all of the community.
Ciranda de Pais is a project aimed at maternity support through education and encouraging the children to interact and play. The coordinator is Cris Arns, whose family is known for their social work. Her aunt, Zilda Arns founded Pastoral da Criança in 1983 to reduce child mortality, and promote peace in families and communities. This has about 260,000 volunteers and has reduced infant mortality by more than half in over 31,000 urban and rural communities of intense poverty. She continued her amazing work with children in poverty until her death in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, where she was carrying out humanitarian activities.
The project addresses the following topics:
- The child and the environment in which he/she lives - Phases of child development - The child and his/her colleagues - The child at school - Sexuality in Childhood
When I arrived in Curitiba, I was very excited to find out that there was an event organised for the next day with Ciranda de Pais. I was fortunate enough to be invited, and I spent the morning with the group and those that they were helping. It began with a talk about how to interact with the children and explaining to be careful with how you speak to them. We then waited tentatively for the children to arrive, which took much longer than I had anticipated. There were a range of donated toys; the organisation cannot afford to provide them, so they must rely on the community.
The idea is for professionally trained people to work with the mothers, educating them about mother care and how to interact with and teach their children. This is a difficult prospect for even the most privileged of people, but especially difficult for mothers living in extreme poverty with a lack of education or facilities. While this is happening, the children go along with the volunteers to areas set out for playing.
Unfortunately, as it was the first time this was running in this area, not many of the invited mothers actually came to the meeting. The children that were there were initially very timid and worried about leaving their mothers' sides to play with us, but we managed to coax three children with offers of food, juice and a sandbox! As they learnt to trust us, they began to open up and speak to the volunteers. We encouraged them to play with the various toys available in the school and showed them how to make a sandcastle - something they were extremely fascinated by and had probably never seen before. Although it is a shame that it was a low attendance, it is still heart-warming to see the commitment of so many volunteers, willing to give up their time to help those in need.
Although Curitiba is a very interesting city, with lots of development schemes, projects like this are still needed to help the very poor people of the city. Approximately 14.5% of the South Eastern population did not have a steady source of food in 2015, which is much lower than 38.1% in the North East (Poverty Report, 2015). In Brazil, the poverty line in those living on R$77 per month per person, the equivalent to about £19 GBP. Starting in 1950, Curitiba’s population doubled every 10 years for 30 years, expanding at a rate that was unprecedented in the area and unexpected, leading to many urban problems not considered in the initial design plans (Urban Design). This has led to a significant decrease in the standard of living for the residents, and Curitiba now faces problems such as traffic, crime and unemployment.
Unrelated to my research (but a great experience) I finished my trip to Curitiba in a less usual way. On a night in at the hostel, I met an extremely interesting woman, who then invited me to a traditional drum rehearsal for my last night in the city. Intrigued, I decided to go along.
The location was about 30 minutes drive from the city, and by the time we arrived it was very dark so I was unsure what to expect and what I was walking into. We could hear the drumming and chanting from outside the house, which got louder and more exciting as we entered. Although I speak no Portuguese, the hosts were very happy to welcome me and share their culture with me. The instructions were translated for me in English, and they explained how to follow the leader of the drumming, and the importance of the ritual. The drum is the heart of the ceremony, and it is vital to continue the rhythm through the entire chant.
A completely unexpected experience, which was very entrancing and fun. I learnt about indigenous South American cultures, and the importance of the drum. The lifestyle of the people I met focuses on the importance of peace health, as well as connecting with the world around them. It also showed me how important it is to trust your instincts and make the most of experiences while travelling.
Overall, I had an incredible time in Curitiba. I stayed in a fantastic hostel (called Social Hostel) where I was made to feel at home, invited to a weekly meal and had hostel staff act as translator for me. The people you meet on travels, whether it’s travelling for fun, research or work, will always be the best part. My trip proposal was to establish if urban planning could positively impact people living in poverty, with a focus on informal settlements. Curitiba was the perfect case study as it is so well studied as a sustainable city, yet I found it did not work for the social aspects. While there is the BRT, the routes and frequencies have not expanded to meet the growing population and do not connect the areas of poverty with the areas of employment and education. The people I spoke to (residents, university professors, architects) had a range of viewpoints on the reasons behind this, but the overall consensus is that the sustainable master plan has not successfully met the social needs of a growing city in the global south. While this was disappointing, it gave me the opportunity to research the above local scale project, which was highly education and a lovely project to get involved in.
Curitiba was also a reminder to me to stay safe and be careful, especially when travelling alone. I wanted to travel between one of the universities, where I had been interviewing a professor, to the Botanical Gardens. I spoke to a hostel staff member and followed his directions; however, I ended up walking into slum. I was in a quite vulnerable position – alone, no understanding of the language and I had valuables with me (particularly my camera). While I had been researching informal settlements, I had been entering them in company with organisations and not taking risks. I tried not to panic and in this situation I went to sit at a bus stop and ordered an uber, and left without any issues. However, it was a reminder that things can go wrong and that precautions must always be taken. Solo travel has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life, but it comes with risks, especially as a woman.