Let the record show that you can be a United States senator of 29 years, you can be 71 years old, you can be the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the most recognizable and most widely respected veteran public servants in your nation. But if you are female, while you are also all of those other things, men who you defeat in arguments will still respond to you by calling you hysterical and telling you to calm down. They will patronize you and say they “admire your passion, sweetie,” but that of course they only deal in facts—not your silly, girly strong feelings. It is inescapable; you can set your watch by it.
No one could accuse Nilcilene Miguel de Lima of being easily afraid. When loggers beat her and burned down her home in Lábrea – in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon – the environmental activist refused to give up her struggle. When they killed her dog and frightened away the armed guards who had been sent to protect her, she carried on without them. But after they murdered her fellow campaigners and warned her she would be next, the mother of four finally fled.
Today, she is in hiding hundreds of miles from home, looking out of the bars on the window of a temporary refuge in Manaus and wondering what happened to Brazilian justice and the world’s interest in protecting the planet’s greatest rainforest. “I’ll be hiding for the rest of my life. The people who killed my friends and destroyed nature should be the ones in prison, but I’m the one who has no liberty,” she says. “All I ever did was protect the families who tried to conserve the environment.”
That is an increasingly dangerous ambition in Brazil where, according to a recent report by Global Witness, more environmental and land-rights campaigners have been killed than the rest of the world put together. The study found that, on average, one activist has been killed in the country every week since 2002. If that trend continues, four will die during the course of this World Cup, though very few cases are likely to make headlines.
Most of the murders occur in remote regions of the Amazon – places like de Lima’s home of Lábrea in Amazonas state, where loggers, ranchers and land-grabbers are seizing property from smallholders, subsistence communities and indigenous tribes. Guns and muscle make the rules. Police are usually either absent, complicit or too weak to deal with the gangs of armedgrileiros. The ethical consequences are immense.
Located in an arc of deforestation that stretches from Mato Grosso, through Acre and Rondônia across the Bolivian border, Lábrea is among the most remote, dangerous and important frontlines of environmental protection on the planet. Whether fighting climate change or conserving biodiversity, there are few more pressing struggles in the world than the one taking place here. Yet it rarely gets much attention in Brazil, let alone the rest of the world. The stage is too distant, the drama plays out too slowly and the economic interests are weighed against the activists, who are often accused by their enemies of holding back development.
Getting to the flash points is a challenge. Most occur deep in the forest. The terminal at the nearest local airport is little more than a shed and it receives only seven scheduled flights a week. The road network is even less developed. Lábrea is at the end of the Trans-Amazonian Highway – a 4,000km road that was supposed to stretch from the east coast all the way to Peru, before the project ran out of funds and became mired in the mosquito and disease-infested swamps around the town.
As the town at the end of this line, Lábrea is a surprisingly bustling, sometimes surreal place with a population of more than 40,000 people – an indication of just how much human pressure is growing in the Amazon. A 20m statue of Mary with a neon halo dominates the central plaza along with dozens of brightly coloured – and almost completely unused – recycling bins placed every 10 metres along the path. A short walk down to the Purus river is a slum of boat-dwellers living on fetid waters; vultures perch on their corrugated tin roofs.
From here it is still three days’ journey by motorboat to de Lima’s home in south Lábrea. She is president of Deus Proverà, an association of Brazilian nut farmers and rubber tappers in the community of Gedeão in the south of Lábrea. Located several days canoe ride from the town, the area is dominated by a gang of gunmen who work for loggers and farmers. It is a hotspot for murder and intimidation. According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission), six community leaders were assassinated in the Lábrea area between 2008 and 2013 and 51 local activists continue to receive death threats. Precedent suggests one in 10 of them will be murdered in the coming years.
De Lima is tougher than most. Struggle and tragedy have defined her life. She grew up in Xapuri in Acre, the headquarters of Brazil’s most celebrated campaigner Chico Mendes, who was murdered in 1988 after he tried to halt loggers and establish extractive reserves for small farmers. These were areas where the right to harvest natural resources were granted to subsistence farmers, fishermen, rubber-tappers or nut harvesters, normally as buffers against the big farms and ranches that are responsible for the worst deforestation. De Lima’s father was a co-founder of the Union of Rubber Tappers alongside Marina Silva, who later became the country’s most effective environment minister. Her husband was killed, de Lima says, on the orders of loggers and half a dozen fellow community leaders have been shot, stabbed or beaten to death in arguments over land and conservation.
Día 1: el tres de mayo, 2014, Santo Domingo
Fascinación con fruit punch
(scroll down for translation)
¡Estoy en la República Dominicana! No me lo puedo creer. Sólo he estado en este lugar por casi cuatro horas, y sólo he visto una ciudad, pero estoy enamorada. No puede esperar hasta que pueda ver las casas y los edificios en la luz, con sus colores brillantes. Y me encanta la respiración de la música en todos los calles. Toda la gente fue cantando, gritando, jugando, riéndose, y fueron contagioso.
Después de ir desde el aeropuerto hasta nuestro hotel, Hotel Europa, esperábamos nuestro equipaje, y algunos camareros nos sirvieron un jugo magnífico. Pedí el nombre de la fruta, y contestó uno, “Es fruit punch.” Si eso fue “fruit punch,” yo lo nunca he bebido fruit punch en mi vida. Hi-C fue blasfemia en vez de esta poción, tan fresca y distinta, con jugo de guayaba y sandía quizás, y algún néctar de Dios. Voy a soñar con ese jugo esta noche, en serio.
Después de poner nuestro equipaje en los cuartos (nuestro tiene suficiente espacio y también un baño limpio - todas las necesidades), fuimos a una calle muy cerca con cuatro o cinco restaurantes, lado a lado. A la vez estaba terminando un espectáculo de baile en un espacio grande al lado de los lugares de comer. Creo que eso es el sitio de los bailes espontáneos sobre que hablaban los asistentes en alguna reunión. Espero que eso sea verdad, porque es muy cerca del hotel.
Bueno, algunos de nosotros fuimos a Rita’s para comer, una restaurante italiana. Podía hablar suficiente español para ayudar a mi grupo, que me hizo muy contenta. Nos dieron primero un pan acompañada por una salsa o algo con ajo, que fue muy deliciosa. Mi cena, que inventé con la ayuda del camarero y mi manipulación del menú, fue muy rica, y también un hombre con una guitarra la tocaba para nosotros. Cantó tres canciones, muy bien escogidas. Empezó cantando, “Ay, ay, ay, canta, no llores,” y casi salté de mi silla. Sí, cantaba “Cielito lindo,” y después “La Bamba,” que todos conocieron. Sólo tuvimos dólares americanos para darle, pero nos dio su gracias en forma de otra canción, algo sobre “mi amor Lupita” y “sus bailes,” no recuerdo. Pero me encantaba la experiencia mucho, y aquí he puesto un parte de su primera canción.
He estado tomando muchos fotos. Espero que no moleste a los otros, pero quiero que la documentación de este viaje sea muy bien. Pues, hay mucho más para decir, pero ahora tengo que leer el libro sobre lo que tenemos una prueba en dos días. Y también tengo que buscar mi champú y acondicionador, que han desaparecido. Sólo un viaje en mi vida, desgraciadamente.
Day 1: May 3, 2014, Santo Domingo
Fascination with Fruit Punch
I’m in the Dominican Republic! I can’t believe it. I’ve only been in this place for about four hours, and I’ve only seen one city, but I am in love. I can’t wait until I can see these houses and buildings in the light, with their brilliant colors. And I am enchanted by the breath of music in every street. All the people are constantly singing, yelling, playing, laughing, and they are contagious.
After going from the airport to our hotel, Hotel Europa, we were waiting for our baggage, and some waiters served us some juice that was absolutely magnificent. I asked the name of the fruit and one waiter answered, “It’s fruit punch.” If that was fruit punch, then I have never drunk fruit punch in my life. Hi-C must be blasphemy compared to this concoction, so fresh and distinct, with guava and watermelon juice [I been drankin’ watermelon, after all], maybe, and some godly nectar. I am going to dream about that juice tonight, seriously.
After putting our luggage in the rooms (ours has a good amount of space and a clean bathroom, all the necessities), we went to a nearby street with four or five restaurants side-by-side. At the same time a dance performance was finishing up in a big space or square next to the places where people were eating. I think that is the location of the spontaneous dances our TAs spoke about at some meeting. I hope that’s true, because it’s so close to the hotel.
Anyway, some of us went to Rita’s to eat, an Italian restaurant. I could speak enough Spanish to help the group out, which made me really happy. They first gave us this bread with some dipping sauce with garlic, that was so delicious. My dinner, which I invented with the help of my waiter and my manipulation of the menu, was satisfying, and also a man with a guitar played it for us. He sang three songs, very well chosen. He started singing, “Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta, no llores,” and I almost jumped out of my seat. Yes, he sang “Cielito lindo,” and after that “La Bamba,” which everyone knew. We only had American dollars to give him, but he thanked us with another song, something about “my love Lupita” and “her dancing,” I don’t really remember. But I loved that experience so much, and I’ve posted here a part of his first song.
I have been taking a lot of pictures. I hope it doesn’t bother everyone too much, but I want the documentation of this trip to be perfect. And there’s a lot more to be said, but I have to go read the book we are being quizzed on in two days. I also need to find my shampoo and conditioner, which have disappeared. Just another day in my life, unfortunately.
“We are from Pakistan, but our parents wanted to give us better education and more opportunities. We moved here exactly a year before September 11, 2001. Our father was an engineer, but after the attacks he could no longer find a job. He started a small business repairing furniture, and at his age manual labor is getting a little hard. So now he is back in school to become an accountant. He works during the day and takes classes at night.”
“I think seeing what our parents went through has made us more motivated, and we appreciate the value of education so much more. It has also brought us closer with our two brothers. We are all in college, and we all want to succeed for our parents. They didn’t get to live the American Dream, but they can see it through us.”
A Reflection on Representation
When we meet someone, the first thing we see is how they look. That’s pretty basic. So when you read a book or watch a movie, the first thing you see is the physical appearance. Often, the first thing mentioned in the book is a character’s physical description. Objectively, it is so easy (and common) to argue that characters should be written based on the story, the way they are imagined in the mind of an author or an illustrator. Authors are creative people; they picture characters and write them that way. And this idea is often extended into defense for a variety of controversial decisions, including the Disney princesses, for example. Why would there be a black princess in Norway? Why would there be an Asian princess in 13th century France? But these are not the questions we should be asking. The problem is not the decision within the context of the story. It is the stories that people consider worth telling. Issues such as lack of representation of POC in Disney movies are not the real problem - they are symptoms. Yes, Disney released three movies in a row with non-white princesses. But citing one, two, three examples is, in my mind, akin to the argument that one cannot be racist while having POC friends. The Disney princesses are just one instance, yes, but they are a symptom of a greater issue.
More than 20 posts across the globe are working in literacy and early-grade reading as primary projects, and even more Volunteers do secondary projects focused on literacy, reading and writing, and enhancing literacy in their communities through books and reading. Much like the focused efforts of the UNICEF programs I worked with as a Volunteer, our efforts today focus on the foundational skills young learners need to “crack the code” of reading.
Inspired by the acclaimed film Girl Rising, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kathmandu, Nepal worked with youth and a women’s group in her Baglung community to create a mural to commemorate International Volunteer Day.
The main part of the mural roughly translates to “Let us make our Baglung beautiful, let us be Volunteers.”
(Thanks to Intern Nikki for the translation!)
It is an unusual school in an unusual location and is run by an unusual teacher.
Rajesh Kumar is a shopkeeper by profession but spends hours every morning teaching around 80 children from the poorest of the poor in India’s capital.
The 43-year-old visited the construction of the Delhi transit station a few years ago and was disturbed by the sight of many children playing at the site instead of attending school.
When he questioned the parents working at the sites they all said there were no schools in the vicinity and no one cared.
Consequently, his open-air class room was born - between pillars and beneath the tracks of the Delhi transit system, known as the Metro.
Every few minutes a train passes above, the children unperturbed by its sounds.
There are no chairs or tables and the children sit on rolls of polystyrene foam placed on the rubble.
Three rectangular patches of wall are painted black and used as a blackboard.
Anonymous donors have contributed cardigans, books, shoes and stationery for the children, as their parents cannot afford them.
One unnamed individual sends a bag full of biscuits and fruit juice for the pupils every day - another incentive for the children to turn up for their studies.