written by Gabriela Vasconcellos
photos by Beg Figueiredo
After looking for work for some time, Camila Silva, 22, has finally found a job opportunity in the construction industry. This determined young woman is now a student in the second class to take the Building Better Professional Education course, where she is learning to become a bricklayer. “Every day I get more and more passionate about this. I’m proud to know that what I do is important. I don’t see anything getting in my way,” says Camila, who lives in Valença, Bahia, in northeastern Brazil.
Every month, she spends a week learning theoretical concepts in the classroom at the Building Better Professional Education Center. The rest of the month, she has access to practical knowledge at a construction site, under the supervision of monitors, foremen and engineers. That is how she is guaranteeing the income she needs to help support her mother and get a degree in Civil Engineering.
As a member of the Construction Cooperative (Coonstruir) – an umbrella institution that brings together the project’s apprentices and graduates – Camila receives about BRL 500 per month, depending on her productivity. The only woman in her class, she argues that bricklaying is not just a man’s job. “I’ve learned everything I know through this course. I’m getting better every day,” she says. She takes care of her appearance, always putting on makeup and paying regular visits to the beauty salon. “I use a hairnet to keep the mortar from getting in my hair. Getting it out is a lot of work.”
Camila and her classmates helped build the Building Better project’s headquarters. The construction works were funded by a Technical and Financial Cooperation Agreement signed in 2009 by Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) and the Odebrecht Foundation, which supports the Program for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Mosaic of Environmental Protection Areas in the Southern Bahia Lowlands (PDIS), of which the Professional Education Center and Coonstruir are part.
The agreement with BNDES calls for the investment of BRL 60 million over six years in social, productive, environmental and educational programs for Southern Lowlands communities. The bank has already invested BRL 2.3 million in the Building Better Center to construct its headquarters in Valença on land donated by the city government. “We could not have built this dream without their help. One person can’t change the world on their own. I’ve built walls, installed porcelain units, and painted doors and gates here. It’s taught me to have focus, objectivity, discipline and patience when doing my work. This project has changed my life,” says Camila.
Other institutions linked to the PDIS that are included in the partnership with BNDES also have good reason to celebrate. The Igrapiúna Rural Family House and Nilo Peçanha Agro-Forestry Family House have received funds for the renovation and expansion of their headquarters, which will enable them to increase the number of students enrolled per year. The bank’s funding for the Presidente Tancredo Neves Rural Producers’ Cooperative is making it possible to build a Fruit Pre-Processing Unit for the cooperative’s 208 members. The Hearts-of-Palm Producers’ Cooperative of the Southern Bahia Lowlands has purchased farm machinery and implements, trucks, cars and motorbikes, which are improving working conditions in the primary sector and increasing farm production and mechanization, as well as enabling agricultural technicians to get around more easily.
The PDIS has gained the support of several social actors in its drive to implement the Eight Millennium Development Goals – proposed by the United Nations and endorsed by 192 countries – in the Southern Bahia Lowlands. Camila is just one young protagonist among hundreds of people who have partnered up with the program, which the Odebrecht Foundation is promoting in the region with a view to changing local realities.
The PDIS last year signed agreements with several other institutions, in addition to BNDES. For example, the Mitsubishi Corporation has increased its support by promising to invest USD 1.8 million in the three family houses active in the region over the next three years to finance the education of new rural entrepreneurs. Previously, the company had carried out an educational project in Igrapiúna, Bahia. In the environmental area, the Companhia de Desenvolvimento e Ação Regional (CAR), a regional development company linked to the State of Bahia, and the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio), together with the Land Conservation Organization (OCT) – another PDIS institution – are encouraging the balanced use of natural resources. All told, their investments total roughly BRL 3 million.
The Bank of Brazil Foundation, a social investor in PDIS since 2008, is financing the improvement of infrastructure, the acquisition of machinery and technological, business and cooperative training for small farmers. It recently implemented one of its social technologies in the Southern Bahia Lowlands – Integrated and Sustainable Agro-Ecological Production (PAIS) – contributing about BRL 1 million to the program.
“The aim of keeping current partners and attracting new ones shows that the Odebrecht Foundation is on track to achieving its future vision: seeking to become an asset manager for environmental sustainability and deploy a model of agricultural, ecological and sustainable tourism in the Pratigi Environmental Protection Area – what we call agro-ecotourism,” says Maurício Medeiros, Executive President of the Odebrecht Foundation. According to Medeiros, the factor that sets the Southern Bahia Lowlands program apart is its innovative system of participatory governance, in which the first, second and third sectors work together seamlessly. “As a result, we have achieved the eighth millennium goal: Developing a Global Partnership for Development,” says Medeiros.
“Having these partners on board is a huge responsibility. We are well aware of that,” says Eduardo Queiroz, the Foundation’s Vice President for Sustainability, who also highlights the synergy established with the Odebrecht Organization. “We are Odebrecht’s social arm. We want to build a development model that can be replicated elsewhere and serve as a benchmark for the Organization’s social actions.