Building self-reliance doesn't happen overnight. Until now, CEN has primarily focused on creating the tools for building a strong foundation for development by strengthening the basic skills and habits of a small group of participants in three communities in the Brazilian Amazon. We are addressing one of the root causes of poverty and not just the symptoms.
One of the most significant accomplishments of our work to date is the development of our comprehensive approach to building self-reliance in communities, as well as our unique learning approach called PRATICAR, which sets CEN apart from the work done by many other development organizations. Our pilot project in the Amazon has succeeded, and more than two years after it ended, community members continue to apply the strengthened critical thinking and problem solving skills they developed during the pilot to address challenges faced by their families and communities.
The following are examples of the impact of our work to date:
The initial impact of our work is best seen by changes in the behavior of the participants, such as by:
- Demonstrating stronger critical thinking and problem-solving habits
- Showing a clearer perception of their situation and a greater realization that they are capable of realizing their goals
In addition, an increasing number of residents we've worked with:
- Have a better appreciation of market demand
- Improved their ability to set prices for their products at levels that will enable them to earn a profit
With this increased income, participants:
- Purchase a wider variety of food for their families, thus improving their family's nutrition levels
- Pay for their children's high school education, improving their children's employment opportunities
- Put money away for emergencies
- Pay for materials needed to keep operating their microenterprise
Our work with the communities in the upper Rio Tapajós region has also had substantial impact on the overall communities there. For example:
Couro Ecológico is in a better position to expand.
- Improved products — With our assistance, they have come out with a couple of new designs that are unique, attractive and better reflect their heritage.
- Sales have improved modestly and are more regular. The regular income that workers earn from their work encourages them to keep working with the association, rather than to join the unsustainable flurry of efforts among Maguary residents to rent rooms out to tourists.
Increased Economic Activity
Income generation activities have expanded since CEN began working in the region, which has begun to increase the economic self-reliance of the target communities.
- The entrepreneur association in Suruacá is operating better and the members are more engaged
- Djalma Lima, an early participant in CEN's work, has become an effective change agent within the community of Suruacá by sharing what he has learned with others in his community, including a new bakery and a barber. He is now leading the new entrepreneur group in Suruacá, which will be a more formal forum for former program participants to share their knowledge with each other and others in the community.
- The production of products by cCLEAR participants, including raising chickens, tourism, woodworking and others, has expanded and entrepreneurs are finding new markets for their products and their skills. For example, among the lessons Allison Alves Caetano, a woodworker from Suruacá, learned while participating in cCLEAR is that he can use his skills to make smaller wood pieces, overcoming his struggle to transport large furniture to markets in the nearby city of Santarém. Djalma Lima has tripled his income from handmade jewelry since he started to work with CEN.
- In the communities of the Eixo Forte (Juá), increased economic activity has been created by the festivals in Cucurunã and smaller festivals in several other communities. Also, several new family-owned ventures have begun:
- Guided horse rides
- Locally produced food, crafts, and ornamental and medicinal plants are regularly available at a roadside stand in Cucurunã. They've even put up some great road signs publicizing the stand.
- A traditional inn has opened in the community of Santa Luzia
- A few stands have opened up on the beach at Punta de Pedras
The computer telecenter in Suruacá, in particular, is much closer to becoming financially self-sustaining by increasing the variety of services for which they charge, such as the online renewal of the CPF (national ID card). The Suruacá telecenter also began to provide limited remote transcription services for outside customers. It is important that the telecenters in both Suruacá and Maguary be able to support themselves because they are an important tool for creating the environment and resources for both communities to build self-reliance.
The project team held two series of town hall-style meetings to hear from residents in each community in the region about their aspirations for the region. Following each tour of every community, the project team presented its findings in a general regional meeting. This participative planning process has already resulted in the foundation of a comprehensive regional development plan. Learn more about the latest regional action plan.
In 2005 when Paulinho Melo started working with the community of Cucurunã, the outside of the church, which is the primary public building in the community, was in a state of disrepair, and the grounds were poorly kept. Paulinho was successful at organizing members of the community, and especially engaging the youth, to repaint the church, create a little plaza and stone walkways and landscape the grounds. Now, every year, the youth group decides on at least one community beautification project. These efforts have increased civic pride and helped organize the community.
A full seven years of education is now available in both Suruacá and Maguary. This is important because sending their children outside their communities for more education is beyond the financial means of most families. Furthermore, many of those who leave to study elsewhere never return home to help their communities. Today, however, there is no need for students to leave their homes to pursue their basic education. While CEN cannot take full credit for this success, the building of the telecenters, no doubt, brought the needed public attention to the area, as well as considerable political pressure to finally expand instruction for three additional years.
In addition, the Suruacá telecenter has become an important resource for students in Suruacá and surrounding communities by allowing students to take some online courses for high school (colégio). While high school students still need to attend classes part of the year in Santarém, they can perform an increasing amount of work from Suruacá, which significantly reduces families' level of financial burden to support their children’s living expenses while away attending classes in Santarém.
Grassroots conservation efforts have started to recover and conserve local streams and improve several local trails. In addition, Cucurunã began a campaign to clean up litter and remove trash from around the community.
As we expand into additional communities, establish partnerships with local organizations, and expand the scope of our work to include the building of entrepreneurial and vocational skills, as well as helping communities remove external obstacles they face, we are confident our work will have a significant long-term, sustainable impact on individual participants and their communities.
In addition to our direct efforts to help build sustainable livelihoods, the tools we provide communities to become more self-reliant can be used to address a wide range of other community priorities, such as improved education, access to quality medical care and sustainably managing their environment.