It starts with planting a tree

By Nina Ford | January 30, 2020 | The Americas | Youth Empowerment

What can we do to prevent climate change? At Vila dos Sonhos in Brazil, young people are sharing their solutions to this global question.

In August, the Amazon rainforest in flames made headlines worldwide, provoking widespread outrage. World leaders called the fires in Brazil an “international crisis.”

Since then, news of environmental damage hasn’t subsided. In December, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that we’re reaching the “point of no return” on global warming. This month, deadly bushfires across Australia dominated the news cycle.

Many of us have been left wondering: what can we do to prevent climate change and protect the environment?

Four youth in orange shirts hold buckets with soil and plants outside. One smiles broadly while looking at the bucket.
Youth at Vila dos Sonhos engage in a hands-on gardening activity. © Onda Solidária

Beyond the headlines, that’s the same question that youth are asking at Vila dos Sonhos, or Village of Dreams. An educational center located two hours outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Vila dos Sonhos is starting conversations with young people about environmental problems – and sustainable solutions.

While Brazil has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, it’s also one of the countries most affected by deforestation and pesticide use.

“You are seeing decisions which impact us not only in Brazil, but everywhere around the globe: with global warming, unsustainable ways of production, the use of pesticides, and burning forests for cattle,” said Ricardo Calçado, a social entrepreneur and the founder of Onda Solidária, the organization that runs Vila dos Sonhos.

“At the same time, there are lots of solutions, possibilities, and opportunities, because all over the country you have big potential for solar panel industry, wind power industry, and renewable energy from all kinds of sources in Brazil,” Ricardo added.

This belief in environmental entrepreneurship, coupled with the conviction that young people are our future activists and leaders, led Ricardo to start Vila dos Sonhos in 2012, with support from Global Fund for Children.

About 40 young people stand in a circle holding hands, beneath green mountains and a clouded sky.
Youth at Vila dos Sonhos participate in a group exercise outside. © Onda Solidária

Ricardo first conceived of the project after receiving a donation of 27 acres of deforested land: an “eco-social center,” built using sustainable materials and technologies, for young people from the local community and region. It provides a safe space where children, youth, and families can learn, play, and connect with nature.

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“We encourage and open opportunities for children and young people to connect with nature, experience and learn where the water comes from, the importance of planting trees, the contrast between cattle fields/deforested areas and forests, and sustainable ways of living. We believe in working together – uniting people – and through doing so, we are forming new leaders, new activists, to make a difference,” Ricardo said.

Today, Vila dos Sonhos has engaged hundreds of young people in academics, sports, and gender equity – all through participatory activities with an environmental lens.

“Let’s talk about the environment: let’s plant a tree. Let’s talk about sustainable resources: let’s see how a solar panel works; let’s make an eco-building. Let’s talk about teamwork: let’s get young people and children from different communities together so they can think and solve problems together,” Ricardo said.

Five youth climb an outdoor staircase made with rainbow-colored tires. Two hold solar panels and three hold balls.
Youth carry solar panels and sports equipment at Vila dos Sonhos. © Onda Solidária

“We believe a lot in being hands-on. We work together with children and young people to build a dream of a better world, for the future of our planet,” he added.

Vila dos Sonhos’s participants are taking that message to heart. These young leaders are coming up with unique ideas of how to spread the word – like writing and filming a poem calling on social media viewers to “care for nature.”

And the work started by Vila dos Sonhos doesn’t stop in Brazil.

“We are receiving people from different towns, from different cities, from far away,” Ricardo said. “Every year, we’re receiving young people from the US to develop an exchange program with us. And now, we have people from England, France, and other countries interested to come, to learn, and to join us in this beautiful dream.”

“For us, it has been a real dream, because we are working with local people as well as international people. Young people from all over the world are coming for our project, so that’s an amazing dream and achievement.”

“Global Fund for Children has been a great partner, helping us since the beginning, to build this dream,” Ricardo added.

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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