Transforming the Lives and Dreams of Youth

Odebrecht Foundation, created in 1965, has defined youth as the focus of its operations for the past 25 years, assuming the mission of educating for life, through work, for values and for limits

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“What we learn when we are young is something we take with us for our entire life.” This statement by Rafael Santos, who participated in the Discovery through Education Site Pact Program in 1999, reinforces the importance of leveraging young people’s learning. The Site Pact is one of the many projects developed by the Odebrecht Foundation, which, created in 1965, has defined youth as the focus of its operations for the past 25 years, assuming the mission of educating for life, through work, with orientations on values and limits.

The decision to do things “with youth” as opposed to “for youth,” and understanding youth as part of the solution, is referred to as Youth Leadership. The term was created by Professor Antonio Carlos Gomes da Costa and has been adopted by the Non-Profit Sector. Maria Adenil Vieira, co-author of the book Protagonismo Juvenil (“Youth Leadership”), written in partnership with Professor Costa and launched by the Odebrecht Foundation in the year 2000, clarifies that the focus on youth was the result of a movement called “Young Wave.” “Studies reveal that Brazil will experience this phenomenon between the years 2005 and 2025: the population that is 15 to 24 years of age will make up the majority in Brazil,” said Vieira. According to her, youth will need to be prepared to work in a competent, solidary and responsible fashion.

Seeking to operate within this context and develop methodologies and strategies for social intervention, Odebrecht supported some 50 projects directly and indirectly from 1988 to 2002 throughout the whole country. The topics varied from volunteerism to work, education and sexuality. One of the initiatives was the Site Pact – created to guarantee entry, permanence and success at the schools of children and adolescents in the Bahia municipalities of Belmonte, Eunápolis, Porto Seguro, Prado and Santa Cruz Cabrália.

Rafael Santos was one of the participants and states that the actions helped change his way of relating to people. “I learned about different things that enriched my culture and my interaction with the whole community,” said Santos. “I felt that this learning made all the difference.”

In 1999, the Odebrecht Foundation adjusted its operations to include micro regions in Bahia, Ceará and Pernambuco with low Human Development Indexes and which fell outside the dynamic sphere of the Brazilian economy. To achieve this goal, it teamed up with the Ayrton Senna Institute, Kellogg Foundation and the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) to implement the Alliance with Adolescents for Sustainable Development Program in Brazil’s Northeastern Region. During the six-month period, Miquéias Reale, age 30 and a native of the community of Moenda, located in the city of Presidente Tancredo Neves (BA), took part in the program together with 28 youth of the same age. For him, this was “one of the biggest contributions toward changing the vision of the world and of one self,” recalled Reale. The experience helped Miquéias Reale, 16 years old at the time, to discover what he wanted for his future. “I started up my own company specialized in Information Technology and computer maintenance,” he said.
In January 2002, working to add value to the patrimony accumulated by the program and allow for the continuity, execution and integration of the results achieved while also ensuring the re-application of the experience in the future, Odebrecht helped create the Alliance Institute. The following year, it began to exclusively concentrate its efforts in the Bahia Southern Lowlands with aims of helping form a new generation, one that is more conscious and well-qualified.
A New Perspective on the Rural Region
The maturity and evolution of the actions in the Bahia Southern Lowlands originated in the Bahia Southern Lowlands Environmental Protection Area Mosaic Program for Development and Growth Integrated with Sustainability (PDCIS), which receives support from public and private partners. The challenge is to turn a rural area with important environmental assets into a prosperous and dynamic region, placing talented youth in the field.

Promoting quality education and encouraging the formation of new rural entrepreneurs is one of the main premises adopted by PDCIS. For this purpose, teaching units were set up that present educational concepts based on the four pillars of education, disclosed in 1996 in the report for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – coordinated by economist Jacques Delors – which include: learning to be, learning to live with others, learning to do and learning to learn. The Rural Family Homes, for example, offer professional technical teaching integrated with high school.

Déborah da Silva, age 25, studied at the Presidente Tancredo Neves Rural Family Home (CFR-PTN), which offers qualification in the area of Agriculture. Today, she is the Educational Assistant at the Presidente Tancredo Neves Rural Producers’ Cooperative (COOPATAN) and shares what she learned over the years. “A young leader is someone who is committed to the environment in which he or she lives,” said Silva. “Not only to the community, but wherever he or she is, he or she continues with the spirit of service,” she emphasized.

Sandro Assunção, age 17, shares this belief. A resident of Itiúba, located in the municipality of Ituberá (BA), he revealed that his goals changed when he enrolled in the High School course aligned with technical qualification in Forests at the Agroforest Family Home (Cfaf). “Before, I thought like many other youth did; I wanted to finish school and leave the countryside,” he said. “Today, I no longer want to escape my reality, but rather transform it. “I want to live peacefully and sustainably in the place where I was born,” he said. Assunção plans to continue applying what he learned during the three years he studied at the Rural Family Home. “With the growth of local agriculture, more youth will stay here,” he said. “We have a lot to learn from the more experienced producers and to offer as well.”

Among the teaching institutions that aim to encourage Southern Lowland youth to become the leaders of their own destinies is the Igrapiúna Rural Family Home, Waters Family Home, Municipal School and Youth School State High School. This last one offers a technical qualification course in Agroecology. Over 1,700 students have already had access to formal teaching at the institution. “I chose my professional path and I have made my dream of becoming a rural entrepreneur a reality,” said Ângelo de Jesus, age 24, who was trained in 2011. “I don’t want to stop. “I plan to participate in qualifications in the agroecology area,” he said.

The Build Better Professional Training Center also includes the set of teaching units associated with PDCIS. Located in the municipality of Valença, the center qualifies professionals in 18 months to work in the area of civil construction. The young leader Camila Silva, age 23, revealed that before joining Build Better, she did not have any dreams or plans for the future. “Here, I learned to have focus, objectivity, discipline and patience,” she said. “I transformed my life and I will transform that of my family and community.”

During an interview with the Odebrecht Foundation in 2008, Professor Antonio Carlos, who passed away in 2011, emphasized that youth leadership is a one-way road and its natural tendency is to expand and become more in-depth. “Life will require people to have increasingly more initiative, creativity, capacity to analyze situations and make decisions,” he said. “This makes leadership an increasingly basic need of our times.”

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