Complexo do Alemão, a complex of favelas in Rio’s North Zone, is perhaps best known for its history of violence related to drug trafficking and police occupation. However, project members of organisation Verdejar (Becoming Green) are working to draw attention to the area for a completely different reason.
Verdejar was founded in 1997 by Luiz Carlos Matos Marins, known as Luiz Poeta (“Luiz the Poet”), interviewed by RioOnWatch prior to his passing in late 2011. Poeta’s idea was to create trails and collect refuse in the Serra da Misericordia, home to the largest section of Atlantic Forest in Rio’s densely urban North Zone.
Verdejar was founded as an institution in 2004, with its principal goal being the conservation and environmental recuperation of the Serra. The Serra remains unprotected by any governmental legislation, despite the fact that it directly influences the flow of water to over 2 million inhabitants of Rio’s North Zone, serves as shelter for various species of the Atlantic Forest, and its streams and vegetation regulate local temperature, thus helping to alleviate the heat island effect. It also has an important role in controlling atmospheric pollution in this region, the most polluted in Rio de Janeiro.
Verdejar has implemented projects to reforest the Serra, in addition to preserve what’s there. In 1998 Verdejar members created a garden to limit growth of the community “Serra da Silva.” The organisation also exemplifies how environmental projects in the Serra can improve the quality of life of local residents. For instance, members grow organic produce in the Serra, by way of a community garden and agroforestry, to improve health.
As far as Verdejar is concerned, the opportunities that conservation and preservation of the Serra offer are abundant. Edson, a co-founder of Verdejar explains: “The challenge we face is also our opportunity to work. Where people see problems in the favelas we see solutions. Where people see a place of exclusion and misery we see opportunities.” This attitude manifests itself in Verdejar’s response to its struggles against widespread ignorance about the importance of conserving rather than destroying. The emphasis is on education. One of the most notable outcomes of this has been the implementation of treks through the Serra, used to attract visitors and to mobilize public opinion in favor of preserving the forest.
Verdejar also places huge importance on educating youth and has developed a project named Nature Station. The project is run through the Environmental Education Center, which, after a long struggle, was granted to Verdejar by the federal government’s Growth Acceleration Program, or PAC. The center aims to be a community-orientated space where environmental education training schemes can be arranged to generate jobs and income in the community through environmental management. This month’s 2-week permaculture course was a huge success, bringing people together from Alemão, across the city and other states.
The center runs courses in various subjects including audiovisual, photography, visual arts and environmental classes, and there are currently 15 young residents involved, from various communities in Alemão. From this 5-month training students have launched an exhibition with 40 photos, 2 films, and objects made from recycled material.
As well as training young students, Verdejar is now devising plans to spread knowledge from inside the classroom to the community, and beyond. It views the center as a place to welcome the community and integrate social movements with an ultimate goal: social transformation.