The "forest" of the urban jungle

Publish date 19-12-2016

by Simone Bernardi

By Nina Ratti and Simone Bernardi - And now we connect overseas. Let's go down to South America, precisely in the fourth most populous city in the world: Sao Paulo in Brazil with its 21 million inhabitants and who knows how many skyscrapers. The green-gold country has been plunged into a serious economic and political crisis for a couple of years. There are 12 million unemployed, but there are also those who ... “Today I learned how to volunteer with other people. To receive a hug from those children, to see the smile of their eyes ... I felt that our presence did them a lot of good! ”. These are the words of Fernando, a socially vulnerable person, often labeled as a morador de rua that is, a resident of the street, one of the approximately 16,000 homeless people in the capital of São Paulo.
His words, as a protagonist, come at the end of a particular day: last October 4, two very different groups met to participate in one of the weekly volunteer actions that fall within the context of the Growing Forest, a now historic initiative of 'Arsenal of Hope.
The goal of the day is to help a school called 4E, which is dedicated to people with Down syndrome. The structure has few means and, above all, scarce availability of personnel who can carry out manual work, such as arranging party areas dedicated to charity, painting walls ...
With this purpose an unusual but profitable union was born that saw working together a group formed by Fernando and 20 other men from a situation like his and the students of one of the most prestigious private high schools in the city of São Paulo.
To try to grasp the uniqueness of this small event we must consider that drug abuse, the underworld and above all greed, indifference and fear of an urban society that pretends to live happily by closing itself in the skyscrapers fortress, they rarely give people like Fernando, and those like him wrong or left behind, a chance to recover.
The Arsenal of Hope tries to do this by offering its 1,200 guests a bed, food and a school in the utmost dignity, but not only ... External initiatives such as the Forest that Grows give them an often unique opportunity to do good, to reconcile a little with life and society and to assimilate those values ​​and those positive attitudes that a family member or any employer can capture instantly.
"People watch us go by - says Marco Vitale, one of the Sermig missionaries in Brazil - ... every Wednesday, for example, with about thirty guests we clean the streets of the neighborhood, three or four wave the flags of peace and others distribute a leaflet on which it says: We are friends of the Arsenal of Hope with the desire to change the world. We are doing the good we can, helping other shelters, collecting food, visiting the sick ... If you want, you can help us and participate too ”.
"All this for us is a way of communicating with the neighborhood, with the city - continues Marco Vitale - ... we pass a message of kindness and gratuitousness even to those who look at us with suspicion, but with the air of someone who has never seen nothing of the sort. With those who stop for a moment, we exchange a few words: even if it were only for a moment, it will still be the memory of a positive fact ... Then, thanks to volunteer photographers who follow us in the actions, we publish the photos on our facebook page : the image of that clearing that was previously full of weeds is that it is now a garden that can open a channel for dialogue including the media, it becomes a sort of online diary that can be used at any time, to present the Arsenal of Hope, but above all for show that good is possible, and must be done, not only to help someone who is in a vulnerable situation from time to time, but also because, paradoxically, those in a vulnerable situation are doing something that those who have more possibilities, is not doing! Who has ears to hear ... ".
It is at this point that young people enter the scene: these facts, and the photos that portray them, have aroused the interest of directors and professors of various schools, even at university level, in search of a social cause, of a mission, of an extra-school commitment for their students, mostly belonging to wealthy families, beautiful, strong, always fashionable, but with little energy to be indignant, to love, to change this world, simply disarmed by Netflix and any kind of comfort ... Last 4 October, for most of the pupils who agreed to participate in the action in the 4E school, it was perhaps the first time they walked a stretch of town, in the external atmosphere of a suburban neighborhood, mixed together with other people, since their normality is to get on and off an SUV in a space specially intended for the entrance and exit of the students in the internal and covered street of the institute.
Yet, for a few hours both groups dropped roles, labels, problems, rhetorical discourses to simply collaborate through action, unity, communion that respects individuality. The walls and boundaries of the school, the shelter, the church, the institution, the company, the street were no longer needed. Suddenly a new, possible space was created elsewhere, collective and perennial. The two realities, working in support of a third, have overcome the language of diversity, specific jargons, social class, simple or branded clothes, completely different life stories.
Marco Vitale, at the end of the action, adds: "For us the Arsenale and all its initiatives, such as the Growing Forest, are the constant attempt to create this space for meeting and dialogue. Starting from the facts, from the need for someone or for society itself to try to understand and make it clear that to solve personal and social problems we need everyone and, above all, to work together ".
In a country like Brazil, with colorful cultural mixes, politically contradictory, economically emerging, but socially full of inequalities and shortages, there are still certain forests. In addition to the Amazon, a forest of people who try, silently, to give oxygen against all sorts of corruption and are still able to roll up their sleeves to renew, grow together, transform the city, produce meanings and give delicate and delicious flowers fruits.

Foto: Fabio José Pereira Lima

This website uses cookies. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy. Click here for more info