January 25th, 2016. After more than six months spent between Italian public offices, appointments without success at the consulate waiting for overseas documents, I can’t believe that everything is solved and I’m really leaving. My destination for the next 8 months is Guarapuava, a city in the center of Paraná state, in southern Brazil, where I will carry out my EVS with the association Outro Olhar (“A different Look”), which collaborates with some Guarani villages in the States of Paraná and Santa Catarina, with the aim of promoting sustainable development in these communities. It’s my first time outside Europe, and the journey seems endless: Milan-Paris-Rio de Janeiro-Curitiba by plane, and, the following day, 4 hours and a half to Guarapuava by bus. Already during these first hours, the huge spaces, the awesome nature, the concept of distance, totally different between here and Italy, astonish me. Here, Guarapuava is considered a small town, but it counts 170,000 inhabitants: when I tell that in my village in Italy we’re less than 500 inhabitants, no one can believe it.
In the early days, the thing that striked me most is the strong social difference, much more pronounced than in Italy and, from what I’ve seen so far, than in Europe: walking you can see luxurious homes protected by electric fences, not far from slums, while on the streets you can meet brand new cars and horse-drawn carts. The first big challenge for me is obviously the language: Portuguese and Italian are quite similar, but at the beginning I can’t understand a thing when they speak to me, and especially when people discuss among themselves. I had never thought about the joy that can be brought about by becoming able to hold the first conversations in a foreign language: meeting the neighbors, going to the bakery and explaining why an Italian is in town, asking information about buses. Brazilians are always very kind, once explained that I’m Italian and that I still have some problems with Portuguese, they are patient and helpful, and while talking I almost always discover that everyone has a Venetian grandfather, a Calabrian ancestor or an aunt who lived for some months in Rome: half of the people seems to have Italian origins, and practically everyone has European origins. Paraná is in fact, one of the Brazilian States in which the European immigration, particularly Italian, German, Polish and Ukrainian, was stronger, and this is probably the main reason why I don’t feel to be in a completely different society: no doubt there are some differences, but the contact points are probably even more. It’s a State that is very far from the Brazil stereotype “samba and carnival” we have in Italy.
The privilege of my project is to have the chance to get in touch with the Brazilian culture, particularly with the Guarani Indians’ one. The association I work with, Outro Olhar, performs a variety of activities: recovery of abandoned areas within indigenous lands with reforestation of native species, production of essential oils from plants grown in the Guarani villages, support to the selling of craft products and dissemination of the Guarani culture in museums, schools and universities; all these activities are developed in close contact with the Guarani communities. I help especially in the selling of craft products: during the travels in the villages we collect the products which then have to be labeled, registered and sold in various markets. Being graduated in computer science, at the moment I’m working mainly on a new system for the management of the products and on the new Tembiapó (the cooperative founded by Guarani artisans and manufacturers in order to sell craft products and essential oils) website, in addition to markets, visits to schools and villages.
The main issue dealt in my project is the solidarity economy, in order to enable economic and social development of villages in harmony with the surrounding environment, guaranteeing an income to allow decent life conditions to those who want to continue living there, without being forced to move to cities to find a job, which would mean the disappearance of an ancient culture in a few years. In Italy I’ve been a volunteer in a fair trade shop for several years: now here I have the chance to be part of a circuit that, despite not being officially fair trade, draws inspiration from it and shares its objectives, and I also have the opportunity to get to know the reality and the people behind the products. The project is in fact just what I was looking for, and, after some time needed to practice a little the new language and to get used to a new way of working, I start being able to contribute and get a lot from this project. Even if, as other friends who already did an EVS experience already told me, what you get is always so much more.