When a group of youth in Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, in August were exploring how they could clean up a local river littered with trash, they had yet bigger questions in mind.
“If we clean the river, how can we prevent the trash from returning?” asked one of the young people from the Vila do Boa neighborhood.
To answer this question, the youth turned to insights they have been gaining through their participation in Baha’i educational programs that develop their capacity to analyze social reality, identify the needs of their communities, and serve their society.
“We need to raise awareness of the protection of the environment alongside the cleanup,” said one of the youth from the group.
As conversations among the youth unfolded, they arrived at the conclusion that a newsletter could be an effective way to raise consciousness about the environment and share more broadly insights from local efforts to contribute to the wellbeing of their neighborhood.
Titled Vila do Boa – So Noticia Boa (meaning Good Village – Good News Only), the name of the newsletter is a play on the term “boa,” which translates to “good.”
“There is only bad news in the newspapers, violence and sad things, so the idea came to share positive and good news, providing hope to neighbors and inviting them to participate,” said Marlene, the facilitator of the group, in an interview with the News Service.
Still more challenging questions followed as plans for the cleanup began to take shape. “How will we collect so much trash? And, how will we carry everything, like discarded TV sets and furniture, to the main road for removal?” asked the youth early on.
It did not take long, however, before the youth received an answer to their questions. A municipal official, after hearing about the project from one of the mothers of the youth at an event about water access, offered to meet with the young people to learn more about their initiative.
The official, inspired by his meeting with the youth, immediately arranged for trucks and workers to assist, and provided the youth with several sign boards that were painted and posted near the river, encouraging people to keep the area free of litter.
In the meantime, the first newsletter was made and delivered to over 120 families in the area. Nicole, one of the youth in the neighborhood, summed up the experience of the conversations with the families, stating: “If we plant good seeds, good things will grow from them.”
On the day of the cleanup, the commitment of the youth to support the initiative inspired the municipal workers to expand their efforts beyond the river to other parts of the neighborhood, resulting in the removal of 12 tons of trash.
“It was hard to work in the heat while wearing a mask, but the project created stronger friendships in our neighborhood,” said Esdras, a youth from Vila do Boa.
Gabriel, another young person, described how the Baha’i educational programs that gave rise to this project have inspired many youth to be of service to their neighborhood over the years. “More and more youth are coming to learn about how they can participate and finding a greater sense of purpose by helping their community. This is how we’re building our lives, through friendship, service, and unity.”
Liese von Czekus Cavalcanti, member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Brazil, elaborates further, describing how these efforts have opened the possibility for closer collaboration between area residents and the municipality to address the different needs of the community and have fostered a collective will for action among neighbors.
“Social transformation requires building unity among individuals, communities, and institutions. The power to effect lasting change is not in opposition and war. It is in unity. This is the power of transformation.”