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Student Spotlight: Serving in Brazil

by Winson Law | April 2nd, 2012

After a rocky, bumpy thirty minute truck ride into the dry, arid Chapada Diamantina region, we finally arrived at our destination, a town called Ouricuri II. What seems like an average small town is actually a comunidade quilombola. These communities, scattered around the northeastern region of Brazil, are the legacy of fugitive slaves who ran away from harsh plantations in search of freedom. Today, towns like Ouricuri II hold some of the poorest members of Brazilian society. In the past, the government had no desire to aid quilombolas. Today, bureaucracy and lack of government interest cripple these communities. As a result, many lack basic services like health posts, adequate education, and nutrition.

The most pressing problem that Ouricuri II faces today is water shortage. While the community wants to build a well, the costs – at least $30,000 for a community in which most people don’t have a salary – prohibit the families in the town from getting the most basic needs every day. That means that the 84 families in this town are often left without water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. Jokingly, one community member said that people used to only shower once every eight days, but now it’s only once per week. The government sends just one truck per month to Ouricuri II and other quilombos to deliver rations, as a cheaper alternative to building a well.When the rations run out, most people have to walk to other communities more than three miles away and lug 200 liters of water back to Ouricuri II. Despite these circumstances, there is currently no active campaign to create change in Ouricuri II.

How is it that the descendants those courageous enough to form their own communities just two centuries ago are now subject to the most inequality? How do communities like Ouricuri II emerge from years of disregard? What should an outsider’s ethical response be in the face of such immense problems?

Caught by the worldly mission and values of Global Citizen Year, Winson Law wanted to learn Portuguese, a language not often taught in the United States, and to learn more about Brazil as a rising global power. Winson is currently in Brazil, where he is teaching English to adults. He will be heading to his first year at Middlebury in the fall of 2012.

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