Why create an NGO in Brazil, South America?

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Many people have asked me: “Why an NGO and why in Brazil, Latin America?”  So I decided to share the story about why I chose to start an NGO in Bahia for our very first blog post.  Although I was born and raised in upstate New York, my father is Brazilian and always supported my interest in international studies and traveling abroad. When I was eleven years old he took me to Brazil for the first time to visit my large, extended family. While my mom is an only child, my father is one of 7 brothers and sisters, so it certainly was a thrill to arrive into this foreign country and be warmly greeted with open arms by aunts, uncles and cousins who immediately took me in and loved me as family.

However, while we were stuck in traffic in downtown Sao Paulo, a small group of children in torn up clothes ran up to the car and started beating their hands against the windows. Immediately, my uncle said “NO” in a harsh voice and everyone proceeded to roll up their windows. I was shocked and confused and didn’t understand what was happening until my father explained that the kids were pleading for change. At that moment I said, “I have some change!” and my dad rolled down his window just an inch to allow me to give them all of the change I could muster up from the bottom of my bag (which of course was American money, so who knows what they did with it).

This was my first experience with true poverty, and I was distraught that my own aunts and uncles could deny a few poor, skinny children some pocket change. As soon as we continued driving down the street I asked my father how this could be, and this is when he spoke a few words that I would never forget. He simply replied: “The world is an unfair place for most people.” I was eleven and from the suburbs… “What???” And then he proceeded to point out the million dollar hotels and beachfront properties in comparison to the vast stretches of shantytowns or “favelas” on the hillsides.

This was indeed a defining moment for me. A moment when I first began to realize my calling: to work towards a world that is more fair and just for more people and to become a part of the struggle for equality, dignity and human liberation that has existed since the dawn of civilization.

After earning a Bachelors degree (BA) in psychology, I worked in therapeutic foster care for a few years and then moved to Colorado to earn a dual Masters in Social Work (MSW) and International Studies (MA). I worked as a community organizer in Denver for several years, mainly focusing on social justice and human rights issues with a deep emphasis on immigrant rights. Then in 2010 I was brought to Washington D.C. to lead the grassroots immigration campaign for two national federations. This work was incredible and it was so exciting to earn a good income and work towards a meaningful cause, but so much of my income was actually going towards taxes (corporate subsidies, war and the prison industry) and exorbitant food, housing and car expenses – all of which represented everything I no longer wanted to be supporting, much less actually funding!

Therefore, after a year and half of politics in D.C., I decided that it was time to move abroad to live the simple life. I sold my car and let go of most of my material belongings with the goal of pursuing a career in International Development and improving upon my Spanish. I first went to Nicaragua to travel, volunteer and complete my yoga teacher training certification and then moved to Peru to accept a position managing a volunteer led NGO called Otra Cosa Network (OCN). Then in February of 2015, I decided to pass the torch onto my assistant manager (to become Manager of OCN) so that I could pursue my lifelong dream of moving to Brazil to finally learn Portuguese, connect with my Brazilian roots and start a new NGO someplace where the disparity and the need is quite profound.

It took a while for me to find the right place, and I spent some time travelling around Brazil but soon after arriving into Itacaré I knew this was where I was meant to stay. Itacaré is a stunningly beautiful tropical beach town that boasts a thriving Afro-Brazilian culture, although there is still great disparity and deep seeded inequality stemming back to the wealthy plantation owners and the African slave trade. Meanwhile, Itacaré is rich in its unique cultural traditions, arts and dance including Capoeira and Samba, while it is also abundant in vast natural resources that have been disappearing all too quickly and must be protected.

Thus, as environmental degradation and global climate change presents the greatest crisis of our time and the greatest threat to human lives and livelihoods, Itacaré presents a perfect place for ETIV do Brazil to have a profound impact in support of environmental conservation, sustainable development and creating greater equality in a place with stark disparity.

My biggest goal is to work with dedicated volunteers to help develop a new generation of local youth leaders that will actively care for each other, their community and the environment. Rather than fighting a corrupt system (as I have spent much time doing in the past), I am focusing on offering new opportunities to local youth and families that can help us build a new vision for the future of our children, our communities and this earth we call home. So right now, exactly 30 years after my first trip to Brazil, ETIV do Brazil has been founded here in Itacaré, Bahia.  It is here we are working toward our vision of a world where more people care for each other and the environment, actively creating greater equality and opportunities for all.

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