Thursday, January 9, 2014

Monte Azul Community Association: São Paulo, Brazil

My first serious teaching job was in São Paulo, Brazil. As I prepared to graduate from college, I applied to teaching positions all over the world, eager to experience more of the thoughtful consideration that comes with viewing one's life through a new cultural lens.

Through friends, I learned about Associação Comunitária Monte Azul, a Waldorf-inspired community development and education nonprofit based in three favelas in São Paulo. The center has grown over the past three decades to encompass infant through adult education and training programs, nutrition support, an organic farm, an anthroposophical clinic, a birthing center, empowerment programs, microfinance, and a cultural center that brought together a diverse community to share talents and teachings. 

I worked in the mornings teaching young children, and in the afternoons teaching violin. My time there was formative in clarifying my understanding of myself as an educator and a learner. The friendships I built there have endured, despite the time and distance, and just last week one of the heads of the organization contacted me to ask for my help with grant applications, translating biographies of program participants into English. 

The first piece I translated happens to be from a woman I knew-- she helped to host foreign teachers, and one of her adopted daughters was my violin student. Quick to offer up her home and her considerable cooking skills, she was one of the de facto mommies of the group of young, international teachers who worked in the nonprofit. I was awed by her story, and wanted to share pieces of it as an example of the type of empowerment that is possible through holistic educational communities.

I was born in the northeast state of Paraíba, in a family of 21 children, of whom only 13 survived. During my childhood, I worked on the farm and did not have a chance to go to school, for it was far away and the need to help the family was very great.
Age 18, I married my husband Joseph who was 19, and gave birth to my first child at 20. The others came while we still in the northeast:...
Every day I took my children to work in the fields... one of the times that we were returning home, a heavy rain fell, forming a flood that almost carried away my oldest son. After this flood, my son got very sick and I hoped to move to São Paulo to give my children a better life.
On November 18, 1986 at 11:30 am, I arrived in São Paulo to live in Monte Azul favela. I lived in a two-room shack with my sister. She was married and had three sons, and gave me support to make this change of state with my husband and four children.
I took my sick son to the hospital several times with the help of my sister. The doctor insisted that there was no cure for the disease. However, my hope was renewed when I took him to Monte Azul’s clinic, where I met Dr. Beth and told her everything that had happened to my son. The doctor was very attentive, and explained a bit about anthroposophical medicine. The treatment was long, but I completed it with the certainty that everything was going to work!
The outcome was beautiful and I realized that the whole philosophy used the in medicine, as well as the education of young children was already, in some way, a part of my life. I was convinced that Monte Azul was the place for me.
On February 2, 1987, I began working in Monte Azul’s nursery. When he was fully recovered, my oldest son began attending the carpentry course at Monte Azul, and my other children attended the Youth Center, the kindergarten, and were always involved in the diverse cultural studies offered by the NGO: theater, dance, etc.
After six months we received our first Japanese volunteer, to help in the nursery. Since then, I have hosted volunteers in my house, which serves as a great learning opportunity because of the exchange of experiences and cultures....
As years passed, I was invited to participate in the Goals Group, which directs the general coordination of the NGO, as well as the consideration of new ideas, and planning and implementation of new projects. My children were graduating, entering the job market and marrying. My daughter went to study Social Therapy in Germany and married a German. So, I had the opportunity to get to know the country where the philosophy used by Monte Azul is very present....
In the same year, I was invited by a group of former Japanese volunteers to go to Japan and, along with [the founder], give talks about my biography and Monte Azul. This time, I was placed in a community whose culture is totally opposite to mine, where the way of life is very private. But again, it was a journey of great learning.
Throughout my time in Monte Azul, and through witnessing the lives of people who took part in the project and who also had their life changed, I see the effort of Monte Azul in search of a more just and decent world, always listening to the voice of Ute who sowed this work and who is still spreading those seeds around the world so that new fruits may be harvested....

Thank you Monte Azul!

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