Introducing Uberlândia Development Initiatives

In 2014, while living in Uberlândia, Brazil, I did some volunteering for an NGO called 'Centro de Formação Comunitário São Francisco de Assis.' Before I get into that, let me tell you about this great organization. Since the educational program they run is called 'Estacão Vida,' and this also seems to be part of their nom de guerre, I'll use that as shorthand for the entire operation.

Founded in 2004, Estacão Vida came together through the work of a group of people who saw a need to change the reality the Shopping Park neighborhood in Uberlândia. This is an underresourced neighborhood with approximately 40,000 residents. The people of this organization do their best for the community, and seek to be as sustainable as possible while they're at it.

In Brazil the elementary and high schools operate on a half day schedule. There is a morning session with a set of students who are done for the day by around noon. Then there's an afternoon session for a completely different group of students. When I lived in Brazil the first time, from 2000 to 2003, my daughter went to pre-school in the afternoons, meaning that often she'd sleep until late, and her breakfast was her lunch. It wasn't a terrible system. For most working class people in Brazil this means that for half the day their children are either at home alone or possibly with grandparents or other relatives. Too often children left on their own come to harm or get involved in situations easily where they're in too deep. Estacão Vida addresses this by offering classes, workshops, and activities for kids in the session when they aren't at their regular school. This means that the morning session at Estacão Vida is composed of the children who go to their normal classes in the afternoon, and vice versa for the afternoon session. While at Estacão Vida the kids are able to participate in workshops such as computer labs, guitar lessons, capoeira, ballet, sewing, and making items like purses, wallets, and so forth. All students receive a healthy meal.

Some portions of the produce for that meal comes from the garden that Estacão Vida operates within its walls. The water for that garden, when the clouds don't provide rain, is what went down the drain of the water fountain that the children drink from. What would have been waste water is given fresh use, requiring no additional water being consumed. As for the electricity to keep the place going, that's taken care of by solar panels on the roof that have allowed Estacão Vida to get off the grid completely.

My role at Estacão Vida in 2014 was very small. A friend invited me to help set up a computer lab there. A donation of used computers had come in from a local bank, and we set about cleaning them, setting up the hardware, and installing a user-friendly version of Linux on them all. It took repeated visits, and on the last we saw the fruit of our labor as a volunteer teacher led the children through using spreadsheets. I'm not joking. Evidently the guy kept their attention because he allowed them to play games in the last 10 minutes or so of class.

There is a real need in Shopping Park. The families there work hard with the minimum of compensation, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic matters have been made worse. Many are out of work and have no other means of making income. Estacão Vida has undertaken to offer a food pantry, providing basic supplies to families as often as they are able. Aside from the present crisis, there's the ongoing matter of what to do for the children, at-risk in their neighborhood largely unattended. While Estacão Vida currently has over 200 children enrolled, the waiting list has over 400 on it. Each name on that list represents a child in legitimate need. Each one a human being with all the gifts with which our species is endowed, needing opportunity, encouragement, and nurture to reach for their potential and find their paths.

One other matter that's come to my attention is that Shopping Park has been receiving a lot of refugees. Some are from Africa, while many are Venezuelans escaping the economic collapse of their home country. The finance manager at Estacão Vida told me the other day about a Venezuelan mother who received food from the pantry. Her home has no oven, so she built an improvised one out of stone just outside the house, and she cooks using firewood. Friends, that's not the norm in Brazil.

For some time now I've been giving thought to how I might be able to help Estacão Vida from here in the United States. It's bothered me that the NGO's website is only available in Portuguese, leaving much of the world in the dark about their good work. Further, the donation button on the site takes the user to information on where to deposit contributions. The problem there is that to make a donation the individual has to have a knowledge of how the Brazilian banking system works, and how to send money securely and economically from the United States. Additionally, since Estacão Vida is not a registered, tax exempt charity in the United States, any such contributions will not be tax deductible in the eyes of the IRS.

Since last year I've been enrolled in the Master of Arts in Management program at Avila University, and if all goes well I should be able to finish the degree requirements by the end of this year. During the summer semester, from now through the middle of August, I'll be working on my 'Capstone Project.' Since my concentration is in project management, I have to arrange a project with a defined scope and client, and go through the steps to bring this project to completion. I'll document this project along the way, perform a literature review, and deliver what was in scope at the end of the semester along with the paper describing it.

My Capstone Project is to set up a US-based non-profit as a phase one. Following this will be a second phase, complete with tax exemption, website, and a means to receive donations. This will be all in support of the work of Estacão Vida. I'm calling this non-profit 'Uberlândia Development Initiatives' and will use 'UDI Brazil' as the trade name. Once everything is in place, we'll be open to receive contributions, and when the dollar amount in the bank account reaches a certain point (the board will define this in a future meeting) the treasurer will transfer the money to Estacão Vida's account. Nearly 100% of the money received will go to the NGO in Brazil, with only transfer fees and any administrative costs deducting from it. There will be no paid staff, and the board will be composed of volunteers. Estacão Vida will also have a seat on the board, with a representative from the NGO being a voting member.

Frankly, I'm excited. This is more than a project to fulfill an academic requirement. It's the first steps toward realizing a dream I've had since I moved back to the United States in 2015. I hope that I'll be able to see it through to success that makes a real difference in the lives of people. It's about supporting the excellent people who are working every day to make their corner of the world a better place.

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