How are our volunteers in the Amazon doing during the quarantine?
As shown in our last report, Vaga Lume has reimagined ways to keep volunteers engaged and involved with writing and reading during the current situation.
In order to do this, we released a series of challenges for the communities we support. Today we want to share with you one of the results of the “Tales and Poetry Challenge: COVID-19 and the quarantine”, in which volunteers sent us poems and stories with their reflections on the current scenario and the perspective for the future.
The pandemic exists in books and movies
In this generation, I’ve never seen such thing
Sad reality, in this unequal world.
If we give it a thought
We come to the conclusion,
Everything became apart, so there can be union
If we cannot unite the world
Let us start with ourselves
Get your family together
And speak as one
Rebuild what is broken
Forgive what needs forgiving
Resolve what needs resolving
Love who needs loving
When all this is over
Family must arise strong
For it must restart,
with the certainty that dodged death
But for those that lost,
Do not be shaken
Here I give you a hint
Get happiness in that place”
-Marluce, Vaga Lume's volunteer since 2013 from Corre Água community – Macapá AP
Vaga Lume is an organization that promotes literacy for children in the Amazon, impacting the
lives of over 12 thousand children every year. As anybody would imagine, promoting literacy
means that we also build libraries to be spaces where books are stored, lent and cultural
activities take place.
In this context, we are re-shaping the ways we understand our work to combat COVID-19 in
the rural areas of the Amazon.
A quick note about Brazil’s medical infrastructure in the Amazon: there are only 0.68 intensive
care unit beds for every 10,000 people (USA accounts for 3.5, Germany 2.9, Italy 1.3), and
these beds are concentrated in the biggest cities – Manaus, Belém, Rio Branco, which means
that in this vast territory (area approximately 2/3 of USA) there are millions of people that
would need to travel many days by boat to have the proper medical attention.
With this said, we need to understand our role, our limitations and our strengths to combat
In Vaga Lume, as we understand our work, the first thing we do in new situations is to listen to
the people in the communities we support to learn with them how our work could be relevant,
what is to be in quarantine in these communities and what kind of help is more useful. We
already had the chance to start these conversations and this is what we have learnt:
Reliable information: with the many resources of information and fakenews, Vaga Lume is a
reliable source of information to spread to the communities we support about the dangers,
the simple measures everyone can take to avoid being infected, and when to ask for help.
Reading during quarantine: our libraries are closed for activities, but reading shouldn’t stop.
The libraries are lending books to children before they are actually closed. In some places
Whatsapp groups are more active now as a way to exchange ideas about reading and books.
Online meetings: Internet is more available than we usually think in the Amazon. In 70% of the
communities we work, we have some kind of connection. Connecting our volunteers in ZOOM
meetings or conference calls has revealed to be very good to share information about good
practices in the libraries, to understand each other needs, and to exchange ideas about COVID-
Empathy: When the virus started spreading in São Paulo, where our main office is located, in
the southeast of Brazil, we received many calls from the people from the Amazon worried to
know how our team was, if we were safe and taking care of ourselves. This shows that Vaga
Lume´s Community is an important resource to exchange ideas and even to find comfort in this
Although we are still looking for answers, we are moving forward to find ways where reading
aloud or doing activities with children can be a joyful experience in this time of quarantine in
the Amazon or in our own houses.
Vaga Lume's activities are focused on the Amazon rainforest, one of the most important regions in the world due to its cultural and environmental diversity. The Amazon rainforest spreads across eight countries where 33 million people and 385 indigenous ethnicities live. Nine Brazilian states are coved by the forest and Vaga Lume has libraries in all of them. There are 86 libraries distributed in 22 municipalities that impact 12.788 children and youngsters every year.
At the 9th Vaga Lume's Congress last September, we reunited 76 volunteers from the Amazon so that they can share their experience and point of view. While other people see the problem from the outside, they do face directly all the effects of Amazon deforestation as it roars ahead. In 2019, the record of the Amazon destruction was intensified and considering the period between January and October there was an increase of 80% in the deforested area if compared to the same period in 2018. (Source: Inpe). In their statements, volunteers highlighted the interests in the dispute for the territory: the increase of illegal logging, the expansion of soybean and eucalyptus cultivation, the increase of livestock and mining, and the communities and peoples in defense of their conservation.
Keeping that in mind, Vaga Lume's mission to empower children from rural communities in the Amazon is getting more and more relevant. Vaga Lume acts in the formation of a network of people committed to the transformation through book and reading. We aim to empower children and youngsters so they can make the right choices for the preservation of the environment and local culture. We do not doubt that to plant and grow even more seeds, we can count on even more committed volunteers whether in the Amazon, in São Paulo, or anywhere else in the world.
The almost two decades of Vaga Lume performance have been a learning time. The hard mission of empowering children from rural communities in the Amazon through community libraries requires great maturity and an effective strategy to face all challenges that come by. Distance and lack of infrastructure in the communities that, most of the times, not even have permanent electricity require structured local partnerships and very well-defined logistics processes; the fundraising work requires the need of diversifying our partnerships in a way to ensure our financial autonomy; the extensive volunteer's network, donors and collaborators implies a work of constant engagement. Therefore, a strong and well-structured basis is essential for achieving our biggest dreams.
With that in mind, in 2019 Vaga Lume took a step toward an organizational maturity to be able to broaden its horizons. Our desire to make community libraries to become real in the entire Amazon makes our challenge as big as our ambition. That way, after a long process of strategic planning, we have created Vaga Lume 2030 Plan that establishes short, medium and long-term goals.
Going further into the community’s journey (Jornada da Comunidade) is our first step to better understand where we are and where we want to be. The community’s journey was developed to reach full engagement to the libraries in order to strike balance between Vaga Lume's engagement and the community involvement. The main goal to set our journey is to ensure autonomy and community articulation around the library and, consequently, increase the project's impact. By using this model for the journey, Vaga Lume aims to impact 180,000 children and youngers in the Amazon by managing 300 rural community libraries by the next decade.
If our volunteer network committed with social change through reading enabled uncountable results since 2001, we undoubtedly believe that we can count on many more committed people to plant and make grow more seeds in the Amazon, São Paulo or any other spot in the world.
Maintaining a job that crosses some of the most distant places in Brazil is not an easy task. Today we support a network of 91 libraries in 22 municipalities in the Brazilian Legal Amazon, which has a history of about 100,000 children and youngers being impacted. This is only possible due to the efforts of hundreds of people spread throughout the country. However, a substantial part of this effort is entirely voluntary. Women and men devote much of their time to the management of community libraries in their communities and municipalities. Without these people, Vaga Lume would have been nothing more than a flash of light that passed by the Amazon almost 20 years ago.
It was by them, for them and thanks to them that our 9th Vaga Lume's Congress was a success in every aspect. After months of work by the team, which included the registration of the participants, the production of the event, the search for partnerships, the preparation of the agenda and communication material, 76 volunteers from the Amazon were able to get to know the largest metropolis in Latin America. For some, it meant a journey taken by boat for days; for others, it was the first time in an airplane; but for all, it was a unique opportunity to exchange experiences between members of different peoples of the Amazon and generations of Vaga Lume’s volunteers.
This 4-day intense agenda included trainings, open classes, lectures, and workshops. The 9th Vaga Lume's Congress was aligned with activities of the Balada Literária (“Literary Ballad”, in English), an annual festival of popular literature hosted at three major Brazilian cities. Apart from that, this encounter marked the beginning of a new era for Vaga Lume. The volunteers collaborated with the construction of the organization's action plan for the upcoming years. This action plan aims to create more libraries to even more communities in the Amazon.
At each Vaga Lume's encounter, whether in the form of a Congress, regional meeting, training or even a monitoring expedition, the richness of cultural exchanges lives up to the complexity of the Amazon region. At this Congress, it was no different: many times, volunteers were able to illustrate how community libraries have become spaces to share and strengthen local traditions and knowledge. After all, along with literature, there is also creativity and imagination, two essential ingredients for the construction of meanings and recognition of the power of culture in every corner of the Amazon.
The amount of knowledge exchanged in just four days has left us speechless. Our conviction and inspiration were renewed by the effort and engagement of the group in the Vaga Lume's mission: to empower children living in rural remote communities of the Amazon by promoting reading and management of community libraries as a space of knowledge sharing.
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