Fighting for dreams: Danielle and her work in "Generating Life"
Brazilian activist Danielle Medeiro wrote two books about the history of slavery in Brazil. At the age of 13.
This is not the only accomplishment that is impressive about Danielle. Despite her young age, this 23 year-old woman already has a remarkable record of activism and academic achievement in her constant effort towards social change. She is not only an activist, but also a Law student, a writer, a researcher, a religious leader, the president of a Non-Government Organization (NGO). Managing her time is undoubtedly a great challenge, but Danielle Medeiro seems to be able to consolidate everything in one single statement: "I love people and this feeling is what makes me dedicate my body and soul to the lives who need help."
At age 17, Danielle was invited to the Seminar on Affirmative Actions and Africa in Diaspora in Bahia, Brazil. She worked for two years in Morro da Providência, the oldest "favela" (a poor community that lacks infrastructure and basic services) in Rio de Janeiro. She also founded and presides over the NGO Gerando Vida (or "Generating Life") in Vila Mimosa, a prostitution zone in Rio de Janeiro.
"I have always been committed to the social issues in my community", Danielle affirms. She recalls that when she was 13, she prepared a school assignment about the end of slavery in Brazil, without being asked by her teacher. From then on, she has always been engaged in changing the reality for people living in the streets or in a situation of social vulnerability.
As a Law student, Danielle worked in Morro da Providência promoting juridical assistance to the community. Most people who live in "favelas" in Brazil do not have access to a good education and often lack knowledge about their rights. Danielle's role was to inform and orient the population when they needed to fight for their rights before the courts. Moreover, she and her group promoted educational sessions about human rights. One interesting project, held last year, prepared children to act as human rights junior agents. The aim was to empower children of the community, by raising their awareness about human rights.
With the creation of her NGO, Danielle can promote programes to tackle various social problems. In the reality of the prostitution zone Vila Mimosa, not only the sex workers suffer the negative impacts of exploitation and poverty. Danielle's NGO works with the children of the community, trying to expand their choices through education, so that they are not compelled to follow the same destiny as their parents. They offer school support, artistic and cultural activities. “Generating Life” also works with youth and adults who need professional empowerment. According to Danielle, "there are many people marginalized from the labor market because they lack the skills to compete for a job. But the courses are expensive and thus hardly accessible, which makes them lose their hopes of a better life." With this in mind, Gerando Vida offers good-quality courses for free. In addition, they work with homeless people, offering food, clothes and social assistance services. Gerando Vida's dream is to build a shelter so that they can offer better care for people in such a fragile situation. Finally, Gerando Vida works with the sex workers themselves, at the prostitution zone, where they give assistance to the girls and women who want to get out of this life. Danielle and her group manage to send some of the girls to empowerment courses and job placements. The goal is to make them realize they can have a different life. "I fight for dreams", Danielle affirms. It is all about encouraging people to dream and to fight for their dreams, in situations in which many have forgotten what it means to have a dream at all.
Of course, all these projects demand a great amount of dedication. It is not easy to promote all these different approaches to the complex problems we face in the poor communities of Brazil. When I asked Danielle about the challenges she faces in her work as an activist, she answered it was certainly the lack of resources and infrastructure. Because they do not have a permanent income, the NGO depends on eventual donations and this often gets in the way of the development of projects. She says the NGO will keep it up even without much money, as it has always been, but, as she says, "our space is small for our dreams, and we dream really big!" She adds that she wants to provide the best education, the best library, the best rooms, because Gerando Vida is dealing with people and all people deserve to be treated with dignity.
I asked Danielle about how she thought her work impacted the people around her and the communities she worked in. She answered: "I believe my work has changed my life more than anyone else's". But the social impact of the projects is evident, for they are lifting people out of poverty, changing the destiny of abandoned children, helping youth to leave behind their lives in marginality, prostitution and drug-dealing. As says Danielle, "We are changing not only people's lifestyle, but also their way of thinking. We are generating life, by helping people follow their dreams and that is simply wonderful."
Her example can be replicated in any of the many poor communities in Brazil's urban areas, for in general they all are victimized by the same kinds of social problems. It is true that individuals or civil society alone cannot change everything overnight. Danielle highlights many of the actions her NGO promotes are actually efforts to remedy the failure of the government to provide basic services that are accessible to all. In Brazil, socio-economic inequality is a central feature that shapes the whole country's reality. In this context, people like Danielle, whose dream is to enable other people to dream too, are inspirational role models, whose words must be heard and whose ideas must be spread.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.