Jun 1, 2018

Art & Community Mobilization: Report Mar-June 2018

Thiago - poetry, not drugs!
Thiago - poetry, not drugs!

Dear Viva a Vida Friends and Supporters!

Thanks to your donations, since the beginning of March, we have launched two projects with our young participants, attended the World Social Forum (held in Salvador), participated in arts events and performed our play (In)Dependencies around the community.

But first let’s hear about Thiago, an impressive 17-year-old no longer involved in hard drugs but instead writing poetry, doing graffiti and performing in public.

Thiago lives with his mother in Vila de Abrantes.  He is from a large family with 6 siblings – 1 boy and 5 girls, but no father: “for me not having a father, that was very shocking.  I didn’t have that man to talk to, to ask about my day at school, I missed having a father.”

Despite this, Thiago’s childhood was, as he says, “normal”, since the presence of his mother made up for a lot of absences, both emotional and financial... “my childhood was normal, for a child without a father, there was only my mother to help at home.  Thank God, I was never hungry. My mother and I have always been close”.

There is only one episode that had a real impact and changed the course of Thiago’s life and that of his mother and siblings.

During his adolescence he had to deal with violence very close to him.  One of his siblings became involved in criminal behvaiour, which was the reason for his mother leaving the neighborhood they lived in and moving to Vila de Abrantes.

The worst moment in my life was when my brother became involved in serious life crimes, which was what he wanted, he chose.  Today I have taken a step back from my brother, but I think he’s well.  He is a very complicated, proud person and always wants to be better than other people.”

I came to live in Abrantes because of my mother’s decision, she came here precisely because of the things that my brother was doing, doing a lot of stupid things where he lives and she was afraid to stay there”.

This change also protected Thiago from continuing to be involved in drug dealing, something he doesn’t like to talk about much.  Despite recognizing that the change was very important for his life, he sees that the neighborhood provides few opportunities for young people and is very unsafe.

I don’t feel totally comfortable in Vila de Abrantes, due to the simple fact that I don’t have many opportunities”.

At this stage of adolescence the ideal is to be surrounded by protective factors such as good education, leisure and income generation opportunities, but this is not the reality for Thiago, or other adolescents and young people in Vila de Abrantes.

My adolescence is complicated by bad things – bad opportunities, I’m talking about hard drugs, opportunities to do wrong – and some opportunities for good... good opportunities are always welcome.  I think there is a lack of work opportunities, people need to have leisure, for the community to unite, not everyone is united, most people from here... it is very complicated!”

Here, in this conversation, Thiago is able to see that some good opportunities have emerged in his life and he considers Viva a Vida to be one of these.  Finding out about the Vila Jovem project through the art and drawing course and the Human Rights and Youth workshops, which focus on racism and violence, provided this young man with the opportunity to gain new life prospects.

I found out about the Viva a Vida project from Youth Worker Marcos Paulo, he presented the project at school and I wanted to participate because I thought his proposals were really interesting and I also thought that we have to concern ourselves with the ideas he discusses.  He was talking about black people.  And I am black, I have to know the truth, my people are hungry, they are not considered by society, among other things.  And this made me rethink my life and what I really want”.

Once he started participating in Viva a Vida’s activities, Thiago began to rethink his attitudes and to understand that through art, in his specific case through poetry, there are new pathways.

“Poetry helped me to express and show my feelings that are hidden within standard society”.

Getting to know Viva a Vida changed my way of being, of seeing life.  Viva a Vida has benefited me through education, has helped me to understand that one day I can be more than I thought...”

This young man surprises us with every step he takes.  He participated in the World Social Forum at the round table in which our Youth Worker Marcos Paulo spoke about marginal arts.  Thiago was brave enough to recite his own poetry about black youth, which made a great impression on the audience. As a result of this activity, he became so motivated that he ran his own arts event in a really spontaneous and authentic way, at the school where he studies.  Following on from this, we were invited to participate in an arts event run by CESE (an ecumenical Human Rights organization), where Thiago once again recited his own poetry.  At the launch of the two projects Theatre in Debate – have you thought of that? and #VivaJuntos, there was Thiago, once again impressing the audience with his poetry and particularly with a poem that brought tears to the eyes of some audience members talking about his love for his mother.

To finish up, let’s hear what Youth Worker Marcos Paulo, who has followed all Thiago’s progress close up, has to say:

Dreams are a kind of magic that every man recognizes.  During a workshop about creating Life Plans, while we were reflecting on how to realize our own dreams, I was questioned by Thiago, who at that time was very doubtful about himself and the chance of realizing his dreams.  An emotional encounter developed in which two dreamers decided to plant the seeds of poetry and now his dream has become poetry”.

To finish, find out more about what your donations have helped support this semester:

  • Launch of the two projects Theatre in Debate – have you thought of that? (funded by Criança Esperança) and #VivaJuntos (funded by Fundacion CEPSA, Social Value Award).  Approximately 40 young people and community members attended the garden launch of these two projects with poetry performances, a graffiti exhibition and a performance of the play (In)Dependencies, written by the 20 young actors in the group, which addresses violence, racism, homophobia and family dysfunction.  A very lively debate followed the performance reflecting on the issues brought up in the play.  One of the mothers discussed what most caught her attention: “The bit about love in the perfect family, where they hide everything [the parents don’t recognize that their daughter is a bully and a racist] and they think they are the perfect family, but in fact there is no love between them, because if there was love it wouldn’t be like this.
  • #VivaJuntos: training youth leaders.  This project includes a series of workshops held at the State college of Vila de Abrantes.  Youth Worker Marcos Paulo is helping more than 200 students in the first year of high school understand Human Rights and what this means for their lives. The students have written some great poetry about their experiences.  In the second semester, the project will focus on graffiti and photography workshops, and our young leaders’ work will then be exhibited in the community and across the municipality.
  • Theatre in Debate – have you thought of that?  The V2 Theater Group is taking their play around the community.  Since the beginning of April, they have performed at our center, two municipal schools and a local NGO.  More than 100 young people and community members have participated in debates reflecting on these vital themes.  Twelve more performances are planned for the rest of the year, reaching more than 700 people.
  • World Social Forum.  Marcos Paulo participated in the round table about Marginal Arts and young members of the Vila Jovem Youth Group participated in the debate and recited some of their own poetry in front of the audience, this was really moving!
  • Arts Event, CESE – once again our budding poets recited their poetry as this important event attended by poets and activists from the city of Salvador.

We have launched a GlobalGiving microproject to help us keep our Community Center open for the rest of the year, allowing more young people to rediscover the joy of adolescence.  Find out more at:


Jumping for joy at the launch of our new projects!
Jumping for joy at the launch of our new projects!
Mar 6, 2018

Art and Mobilization Report Dec 2017 - March 2018

Young artist Jesse
Young artist Jesse

Dear Viva a Vida Friends and Supporters!

“When someone puts a battery in you, to give you the energy to do something .. the project was like that for me”

Since we last sent you a report, we have been doing a lot of evaluations and preparations work behind the scenes.  In December, we looked back over the year, listening to the voices of our young participants in project focus groups and written evaluations, running a team reflection session and outlining our 2017 Annual Report.  Then in January we began our preparations for 2018, with project planning and team meetings to set targets for the new year and finalize our 2018Operational Plan.  In February, we once again participated in the Educational Planning Week at the local High School, listening to teacher feedback and outlining our plans for 2018.

In December, we were invited to the CEPSA Foundation to collect their 2018 Social Award, won by our project Vila Jovem Grafitta – street art for social mobilization.  This will enable us to run another edition of the project, called #Viva Juntos, which will benefit up to 1,800 young people through Youth Empowerment, Photography and Graffiti workshops and exhibitions.

To celebrate the Vila Jovem Grafitta achievements, we’d like to tell you a little bit about Jessé, a young man who was fed up with school, ready to leave and start working and involved in unsafe behavior.  Thanks to our Human Rights & Youth Workshops and theVila Jovem Grafitta group, Jessé has changed his course and is flourishing as a young artist, keen to give back to his community.

“I learnt a lot about black identity, I really think about it differently today, and that is how I was able to truly become aware of what I should do with my life, because I was following a totally different way of behavior to what I am today... I was making a lot of mistakes, it wasn’t right... but then I managed to develop through this project, I was able to change how I think, I learnt new things, it was really good”.

Hear what Jessé has to say about his neighborhood and the effect of Viva a Vida’s projects on his life.

My neighborhood, in terms of hospitality and studies, is abandoned, the politicians don’t go there... [Some neighborhoods]don’t have high schools, it’s really shunned, the politicians don’t pay direct attention to my neighborhood.  It could be better in so many ways, the sports pitches are totally destroyed, the maintenance of the squares, nothing is 100%”

As a result of the workshops, Jessé, who had been thinking of leaving school, has changed his course, his thinking and attitudes.

 “I was even thinking of leaving school... to work, but I gave that up, I changed my mind, the project helped me to understand that above all my studies should be on the agenda… and I believe that this, I repeat this again and again, has helped the community to expand from the point of view of adolescents”.

Brave enough to admit that he used to be “a bit” racist and homophobic, after entering the project, Jessé managed to overcome these barriers:

I didn’t have the courage to admit my own identity... I was a bit racist too, prejudiced and then this changed, all this changed when I began to understand that my identity needed cultivating, and thus the prejudice, I was very prejudiced… my mind totally changed, because I was prejudiced about everything, in some ways I was a bit homophobic, I learnt to respect everyone, in the way that I want to be respected and that’s how it went.  So I was able to evolve, my mind changed, I learnt to understand things, my interpretation changed a lot, all of this was thanks to the project.”

Changes in Jessé’s life didn’t stop there, if before he wasn’t excited about his own compositions, today, he only thinks about art... “I always liked [art] a lot, but I didn’t practice it in my life, I didn’t know how to practice it, but today all the walls in my bedroom are painted, today I dance, I have performed in the school, I have held a dance presentation, I sing rap, all of this was inspired by the project, you know when someone puts a battery in you, to give you the energy to do something, the project was like that for me”.

The Vila Jovem Grafitta project holds community exhibitions of the young people’s work in order to pass on their youth empowerment messages and to show the young people how valuable their work is for others.  Jessé is understandably proud of the possibility of seeing his own work exhibited:

I learnt drawing techniques, I managed to develop all of them, because the teacher makes such an effort, he gives so much of himself for the performance of his students, and so I was able to develop.  Before I couldn’t draw anything but by the end of the course I was able to draw a picture which will go into the exhibition”.

Congratulations Jessé!  We look forward to telling your more about the exhibitions in our next report.

In February, we relaunched our Open Agenda meetings with a fantastic debate about Gender and LGBT Rights facilitated by Vilma Bahia from the Collective of Diversity and Citizenship in Lauro de Freitas and Thiffany Odara, a trans feminist, educator and social activist.   Twenty young people and adults participated in the debate, which generated a number of questions, addressed with humor and grace by these two impressive activists, who have both offered to work with Viva a Vida in the future.

After the debate, Lucas, a member of the V2 Theater Group, said this:

“I felt really fulfilled after the discussion, I didn’t want it to end.  The women added so much to my life and I wanted more.  Vilma has had amazing life experiences and has incredible ideas that made us think harder about issues of prejudice and about accepting ourselves.  Thiffany was incredible with her dynamic and funny dialogue, she passed on her knowledge about the issue of gender brilliantly and won me over with her way of expressing herself and how she dedicated herself to helping us and answering our questions so that everything was clear... I would really like more meetings with them and to be able to work with them on a project at the NGO!

Huge thanks to Vilma and Thiffany, here’s hoping we can continue this amazing partnership!

After the Gender and LGBT Rights debate!
After the Gender and LGBT Rights debate!
Dec 7, 2017

Viva a Vida Community Mobilization: Sept-Dec 2017

Our Ana, Committee Member, Volunteer and much more
Our Ana, Committee Member, Volunteer and much more

Dear Viva a Vida Friends and Supporters!


The summer semester here in Abrantes has been a busy one, with the Vila Jovem Grafitta – street art for social mobilization growing in numbers, enthusiasm and techniques, an Open Agenda Youth meeting combining a lively debate about youth rights with a graffiti activity and another highly successful garden presentation of the V2 Theater Group’s devised play ‘Independence’


Each day I see more clearly the importance of Viva a Vida’s work, particularly in activities with adolescents, and being a “Safe Harbor”, in which they can shelter and trust


This month, we’d like to do something different and share Ana’s inspirational story from behind the scenes.  Ana was Viva a Vida’s Administrator and now sits on our Oversight Committee, is a member of our Fundraising Working Group and also finds time to support us as a volunteer.  Here is what Ana would like to share with you.


“I live in Abrantes and I know how the violence has grown in this region, cutting down the lives of children and adolescents who are born into a dysfunctional society and are survivors of so many evils - their childhoods stolen from them and with no prospects for the future”.


Ana, our Ana as we call her, is 47 years old, was born and lives in Catu de Abrantes, the nearby community in which our first administrative office was based, and where we got to know her.  At the time, Ana was the administrator of another NGO and, because of her dedication and professionalism, as soon as she left that job, we at Viva a Vida invited her to work as our administrator.


This worked very well, until Ana decided to move on to new horizons.  But the bond was so strong that Ana became a volunteer and a member of Viva a Vida’s Oversight Committee. 


“I was very happy with the group that worked at Viva a Vida and I was already involved in the NGO’s goals, so, in order not to break completely and continue supporting the work, I was invited to become part of the Oversight Committee and I accepted immediately.”


This is Ana’s background at Viva a Vida, but we would like to present her personal success story, to give some idea of the social context in which Viva a Vida works and to celebrate her achievements, which she uses to enrich our work.


“I am the daughter of Valter Veloso, carpenter and master of works, and Dirce Fanco Veloso, housewife, neither of whom completed elementary school.  I am the ninth child of 11, the third girl of 4 girls and 7 boys”.


Ana studied at public schools her entire life, until she went to university.  She remembers that, because of her hard work, she received a 70% grant for a course to study for the university entrance exam. Ana worked during the day and studied at night, commuting 36 kilometers per day, and remembers the difficulties she had with poor public transport, something that continues to this day.


“During this period, my mother became ill and then died in April 2000.  I thought of dropping everything, I was so discouraged and sad.  A week later, my sister, who was 8 months’ pregnant, lost her baby and, as her unmarried sister, I stayed with her in hospital.  I needed to be strong to support someone who needed it more than me”.


Despite so many difficulties – financial and emotional – Ana remained at university, struggling on.


“The monthly fees of the Administration Course were more than my salary.  I twice tried to get a government loan but was refused, I sought out and managed to get an assistance grant from the municipality of Camaçari and a discount from the faculty for transport costs, but putting this altogether it was still more than my budget, so I used two months’ salary to pay the monthly fees and ‘sold’ my holidays.  In 2005, I completed my university course and was highly commended.  At the time I was 36 years old, I only regret not having started earlier.  Crisis provides an opportunity for growth and I am living proof of that!”


All of this strengthened Ana, who also suffered a great deal with the loss of her nephew, killed by neighborhood violence.  This is the sad, but expert, knowledge of daily life in the community that she brings to Viva a Vida - wisdom you cannot find at any university.


“Each day I see more clearly the importance of Viva a Vida’s work, particularly in activities with adolescents, and being a “Safe Harbor”, in which they can shelter and trust, with so many circumstances of vulnerability, which are common during this phase of life”.


Our partnership with Ana extends to community work, though activities undertaken with the school in her community, where her sister Rosangela is Director. She also supported an event at our center about the importance of family in tackling homophobia, in which another of her sisters, Katia, participated and talked about own family experience of this issue.


“There are cases of drug involvement in my family and I know how difficult it is and how everyone involved suffers.  I understand that prevention and strengthening bonds is the safest and most efficient way to deal with this issue”.


Ana has transformed her life story into inspiration, giving back all that she has achieved to her community and to society.


“I believe that all of us in society have a responsibility to everything around us, directly or indirectly.  Supporting Viva a Vida, even in a small way, is my way of contributing to a fairer and more egalitarian society”.


A bit more about our other activities this semester:


  • On 11 November we held our Open Agenda Youth meeting looking at youth policy in the municipality and discussing youth rights.  We welcomed young people from Originais da Apito and Articular Juventude of the Paulo Tonucci Association from the city of Camaçari, who presented their group and mediated a debate with almost 40 young people.  As a result of this meeting, in 2018 the young people will send an official letter to the City Council Chamber demanding the establishment of a Youth Council in Camaçari. This council is essential in asserting the rights of young people and creating appropriate policies for this age group.  The meeting was followed by a graffiti activity run by Vila Jovem Grafitta – street art for social mobilization (see photo).
  • Vila Jovem Grafitta also held a special session at our center in November to practice what they have learnt in their art classes and explore art and protagonism with their Arts Educator.
  • This semester, as one of their cultural exchanges, the V2 theater group watched the play “Their History” which dealt with issues related to homosexuality.  At the end of the play, the young people were invited to talk to the cast to discuss artistic and social matters related to the performance.
  • Once again, the V2 theater group performed (In)Dependence in our garden, attended by over 40 members of the community who participated in a post-performance debate.  We were very moved to hear from one of the young people’s mothers, who became quite emotional as she reflected on issues to do with family relationships and poverty from the play which strongly reflected her life experience.  She, and a number of other community members, praised the strong performances and messages in the play and noted that this was the first ever time they had attended a theater performance.
  • We were very happy to welcome Giancarlo, our Evaluation and Communications Volunteer, who was visiting from London. Both the team and our young actors thanked Giancarlo for his exemplary support over the years.
  • Cine Viva a Vida continues – this semester showing Sing, Hotel Transylvania and Moana to younger members of the Abrantes community.  In the last session we were particularly pleased with the way these young cinema goers organized themselves and looked after the Viva a Vida space, demonstrating growing autonomy and responsibility.


After a hard day of graffiti in the garden!
After a hard day of graffiti in the garden!
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