Wednesday, 16 June 2010

South American Way

Oh, what a joy it was to watch Brazil finally play their first world cup match.
It’s a funny thing, Brazilian football. It inspires passion from the most unexpected corners of the world. I've lost count of the times I met people of all sorts of nationalities who insist on supporting the team of Kaka and Robinho.
Watching the ecstatic crowds celebrate a pretty predictable – but far from easy -victory over the heroic Koreans last night, it made me smile how well loved the boys from Brazil seem to be.

It is an unusual choice of country to shout about in this blog.

Brazil is the worst offender in a recent Australian study ranking countries according to their impact on the environment.
Forget deforestation, carbon emissions and water pollution for a moment and you’re still confronted with 14% of workers earning under the USD 100 monthly minimum wage and child labour a reality for over a million Brazilians under 13 years old.

But there is some happy news too.

As with so many positive aspects of Brazilian life, the real improvements in the terrible ethical track are driven by individuals and voluntary organizations, as independent from government corruption and bureaucracy as possible.

One success story: recycling. Despite legislation being unclear and not progressing any day soon, Brazilian rates of paper and aluminum recycling are comparable to those in notoriously green Germany. The effort is led by poverty, not environmental conscience. The very poor and unemployed rely on cash generated by collected paper, tins, metal and bottles.

The ringpulll bag from the Bottletop project made headlines in Britain when the bag started turning up on famous arms – from Peaches Geldoff to Miriam Clegg. The charity works with local homeless communities in the state of Bahia, teaching them to manufacture the bags with recycled ringpulls. Metal ring collectors are paid around £1 per kilo and each bag produced is bought by the project and re-sold at around £50.00 in Europe. All the proceeds go back into the project, which helps people out of poverty, as well as funding education programmes in Brazil. You can get your ringpull bag from Fenchurch.

Despite the horror stories of acres of rainforest giving way to cattle farms, Brazil has a 70% recycling rate of plastic bottles (against 20% in the US) and is the world's top recycler of aluminium.

And then there’s the Tamar project, which is bound to make you smile. Running since 1980, it has single handedly saved marine turtles in the coast of Brazil from extinction. Organised as a partnership between the Brazilian government and the private sector, the place is a complete joy to visit, as well as an example of how conservation initiatives can be successful. It relies heavily on the work from students and volunteers, as well as the funds generated by visitors. If you plan a visit to Brazil, please make sure you include Tamar in your list. I had to be dragged out of the place kicking and screaming, unwilling to leave the cute baby turtles and Bounty-advert beaches behind.

If that didn’t work for you, I defy you not to melt at the sight of the sloths from the Sloths Rehabilitation Project. Also set in the state of Bahia, it’s been increasingly successful in re-introducing these animals into the wild.

So, get that yelllow shirt on, cheer for Brazil this Sunday and keep faith that all is not lost yet.

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