In my first year out of high school in Alabama, I joined a 3rd world development program known as the IICD, the Institute for International Cooperation and Development. This is an NGO, whose roots began in Denmark in the 60s. The group I joined was based out of Williams, Massachusetts.
My motivations were largely based on the fact that all the colleges to which I had applied decided to deny me entry. I always assumed that SAT scores carried more weight. In retrospect, I realize now that getting into an expensive private school is mostly based on good recommendations. Getting a good recommendation means demonstrating respect. Authority figures generally do not acknowledge respect, unless it is accompanied with empty compliments and false reverence. If you choose not to cater to the will of authority, then they will never lift a finger to help you, but I digress...
More on IICD can be found at www.iicd.org. My experience was a positive one. I raised around three thousand dollars by direct canvassing, and then went to Brazil to directly donate that money and my time to three Brazilian NGOs.
The whole operation ran on a tight budget, and it was an intense learning experience. Before we even got to South America, the act of direct fund raising was incredibly eye opening. How do you validate one cause above another? Why should anyone help those who can't help themselves? These are large questions, and as a nineteen year old in New York City, I had a hard time answering them.
Suffice to say, it was a learning experience. I have a new learning experience ahead of me, and it is called photo-restoration. I have a scanner capable of importing film now. The process is tedious, and perfection is not easily achieved. All of these shots are still being improved. I consider these results reasonably good, considering all the failures leading up to them.
Our first NGO in Brazil was a farm. Located in rural Parana, this farm was vacant land in the mid-80s. The families who live there were part of an agrarian reform group known as the MST.
The Movimento Sans Terra seeks to connect farmers with land, which is prohibitively expensive. Brazilian cities suffer from overpopulation due to the lack of opportunities in the countryside. The country has enormous tracts of land which go unused because none of the willing farmers can afford the land.
The MST solves this problem by organizing every aspect of a farm, then rapidly setting up a fully functional farm. Coopcal is an outstanding model of success for the MST. A dozen families live in basic housing on the farm. They raised cows and pigs, and planted cucumbers. Their output was substantial, and clearly demonstrated the value of the MST system.
There are several ways to measure the size of a waterfall. How tall is it? How wide? How much water actually flows over the edge per minute?
Iguaçu falls lie on the boarders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. The waterfall exists over a large area, and contains numerous subdivided falls and tiers. The overall width of the waterfall area is much bigger than Victoria Falls, though Iguaçu does not have a single flow of water that is as wide. Niagara pumps out more water per minute, though Iguaçu is still wider, and has parts which are much higher.
In 2011, Iguaçu was recognized as one of the "New7Wonders of Nature", which is a noble effort to add some sense to the classic euro-centric list of wonders.
Brazil is a big place. In the USA, we grow up with this understanding that our country contains densely populated coasts to the east and west, and an increasingly rural interior with giant wide open spaces. Brazil is similar, yet there is only one coast, and the rural interior boggles the mind with its expanses of jungle. The roadways are fairly extensive and good, but most of the distance takes place on eternal two lane highways.
Landing in Sao Paulo, we took a bus to central Parana by way of Curitiba. This took around fifteen hours of actual travel time. The journey from central Parana to Iguacu falls took around twelve hours. Curitiba to Rio de Janiero was a ride of around thirty five hours. Rio to Recife was around fifty. Two of our team members actually ventured from Recife back to Parana, which was a seventy hour trip. I got used to sitting on buses.
These pictures are of various things I saw from my window. At the time, I was re-reading the Lord of the Rings, and listening to lots of Pearl Jam and Tori Amos.
Before we went to the farm cooperative, we took the opportunity to visit Curitiba and the Isla do Mel. Curitiba is a medium sized city on the southern coast of Brazil. It has a world-renowned urban transit system, which has been cited as one of the greatest successes in urban planning of the twentieth century. This is essentially just a perfection of the bus system which perfectly serves a sizable populace.
Taking a boat from Curitiba, we spent a night on the Isla do Mel, a prototypical carefree beach community. Visiting in the wet season, we had the place to ourselves virtually, giving time to ponder the utter ridiculousness of modern life. The place resembled a third world MTV beach house.
After three weeks on the aforementioned farm cooperative, we ventured north to Recife. We met with two NGOs there, one was an inner city school in the Jardim Uchoa district, the other an outreach program for street children. These were rough areas. Roads gave way to dirt paths. Streets wandered in various directions. All the housing was made of the same red brick and corrugated metal roofs. Electricity and plumbing were accomplished in impromptu manners.
The school we worked with was the center of the community. Positive growth seems inextricably linked to education, and powerful women. I don't think we, as a people, will ever truly advance sociologically until we embrace this. Suffice to say, this experience took me to rough neighborhoods in which i did not feel comfortable carrying my camera. It is a shame, but how exactly does one say "Your destitution is remarkable, let me photograph it."?
Rio is unbelievable. I was there for three days, and it was not long enough by far. Rio is one of the many geographical marvels whose name is wholly incorrect. There is no river at all, just an intricately coasted bay. The land leading up to the coast is dramatically high. The usable land is minimal, and therefore extraordinarily expensive. The urban density is severe, and overcrowded shantytowns defy all building codes, and creep up the bluffs precariously. Wandering about the city felt like being in a dream.
Tourism is huge, and therefore petty crime is rampant. I had read about this numerous times prior to departing the US. I was also warned about a dozen times on the road to Rio. Deciding not to tempt fate, I left my camera locked in the hostel, and bought a disposable for the weekend. When I was back home, and developing the pictures, the photo shop attendant remarked that one of my rolls was really weird and seemed old. I didn't understand until I saw my pictures, when it became obvious. The disposable camera was clearly past its prime, and close inspection of the film itself seemed to imply it was loaded upside down, though this only affected the numbers and letters on the edges of the negatives. Strange.
Of course I was not robbed that day. We sat on the beaches and swam in the ocean. We saw Christo on Corcovado.
Salvador is an unreal city. It is located on a peninsula, similar to San Francisco, though the bay is too vast to bridge. The center of the city is out on the end of the peninsula, which, like Rio, has some incredibly steep dropoffs. Unlike Rio, the bluffs have enough area to support several city blocks. The old district consists mainly of beautifully restored buildings and incredible views out over the bay from a significant height.
The main square contains a giant elevator built in an art-deco style. A causeway juts out of the cliff face, and into the giant column of the elevator.
This town is clearly a tourist trap, but it does not matter.