Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dia 34: “If things aren’t going too great, they’re probably not over yet.”

I arose this morning to the sight of the beautiful Recife coastline.

After a shower and a blog post, I headed down to the lobby and met Evelyne Labanca, the Secretary of Management and Planning in Recife. Evelyne is an incredibly warm and bubbly person, and she spent the whole car ride this morning briefing Cyprian Uncle, Papa, and me on not only the resettlement projects we would be seeing today, but also on various and sundry subtleties of Recife culture and history. She had read the Involuntary Resettlement Sourcebook co-authored and edited by my dad, and was really eager to chat about it, and just learn as much as possible from him.

It was really cool to have my first “lesson” in resettlement today, especially because that is my dad’s specialization! The first site we saw housed a vertical resettlement (multi-story buildings) project for 352 families who had earlier been living in stilt-propped houses in Recife’s huge urban mangrove forest. The development is on centrally located land not far from the residents’ old residences, which allows them to maintain their previous livelihoods.

Next, we saw two projects, now completed, which Papa had seen as they were just starting to be built when he last visited Brazil 3 years ago.


The last site we saw had double-story houses for each family. This allowed the living space to be separated from the sleeping space (unlike in the other 3 developments) and made the layout very pleasant.

After these 4 field visits, we stopped back at the hotel (where I showered off the day’s humidity and changed into plain plane clothes) before heading out to lunch. We ate at La Cuisine Do Mar, a charming seafood restaurant with impeccable flavors. My dish of rice with shrimp was to die for, Papa's salad was great, and the subsequent cinnamon ice cream I tried at Cyprian Uncle’ suggestion was delicious as well. Mama would have loved the meal, and Nani the dessert!
Post prandium, we connected with Evelyne again, to begin our second stretch of visits. On the menu were two schools -- my favorite! But first, in the car, Evelyne gave me a lovely present. She had taken her lunch break at the city hall where she works, and had stopped by a local jewelry store to get me a lovely ring in the shape of a turquoise and yellow (Brazilian colors!) rose. How very sweet -- thank you, Evelyne!

We soon arrived at our first stop for the afternoon, a state school participating in IDEPE. This project is a collaboration between the World Bank and the state of Pernambuco, and provides additional resources for schools that achieve excellence based on certain pre-identified criteria. The excellence was certainly visible as soon as we walked through the door and stood facing the school’s own radio broadcasting station, where students stream both music and school current events to the community. Next, we heard about a club which teaches dance as an alternative to crime and/or drugs. The AMAZING breakdance group performed for us, and even had one interpretive-ish routine which served as a commentary on violence in the community.

After a colorfully-clad choir conducted a cancion for us, members of the special needs class performed a short skit on bullying. A parent then spoke a bit about the school. His son, who is deaf and had to leave 2 schools prior to this, has been attending classes here for a mere 6 months. He has already started learning to speak, and is respected as an equal by his peers. Papa gave a closing address and we were off to our next stop.

A municipal school which knows the true meaning of “student governance,” Escolha Municipal de Bosco opened my eyes. Students here take part in a Participative Budgeting (OP) program sponsored by the state. Members come together to agree on 3 issues per year which are most critical to their schools, and the government then allocates school funding based on this feedback. Each class in the school elects one representative to attend these meetings, and the school as a whole chooses two students to lead the meetings within their school. In addition, the school can send a candidate to run to be the national delegate who represents his/her state. We had the pleasure of meeting Recife’s national OP delegate today!! Keila, a 14-year-old student of Escolha Municipal de Bosco, represents the needs of Recife’s schoolchildren. Watching her walk around and direct her fellow classmates on how to fill out surveys on the services provided by the school was deeply inspiring. I met a celebrity today!


Truly heartened to see this kind of initiative and involvement at such an early age, Papa gave an inspiring address on how our future seems a lot brighter knowing there are kids like this out there. The students were super excited to hear this, just as they had been when I had mentioned to them that I am in Brazil because it is my dad’s favorite country in the world. They burst into raucous applause and exclaimed “ayyyyyyyy!” before jumping up and hugging Papa and me. A ginormous photoshoot ensued, which somehow came to involve me signing upwards of 20 autographs (I’m ok with this treatment!) and acquiring a bushel of email addresses and promises of Facebook invites. Keila’s co-president of the school’s OP chapter, Jarde, presented me with a heap of OP paraphernalia, which I will be sporting with pride! I wish I’d had more time to stay and chat with these amazing kids, and I look forward to writing to them as soon as I have a reliable internet connection and competent Portuguese translator -- Lauraaa?

From the school we drove to Recife’s airport, known for being the prettiest one in Brazil (I know better -- Tarauaca’s where it’s at). We discussed in the car how genuine Brazilians are. I had always heard that Brazilians were very friendly (and good-looking) -- but I never realized how true this (set of) fact(s) really is! As I commented in the car, Brazilian people seem to like you for no other reason than that you’re a person. No wonder they are always in the top 5 happiest countries of the world.

Once at our gate, I browsed a few souvenir shops, ending up at a store with beautiful hand-embroidered clothing. The clothes themselves were very expensive, but I did make a friend and purchase a really nice hand-embroidered bookmark.

I now sit in the plane having finished Sonnet 34 and feeling ridiculously pumped for these next few days in rockin' RIO DE JANEIRO!

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